CONCORD, N.H. – The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 212 to 141 to kill the proposed Franklin Partin Right to Work Act on Wednesday, as Democrats and Republicans waged a familiar debate about unions and job creation.
Unlike last session, however, Democrats now enjoy majority control of the chamber. This bill's fate was sealed before today, the partisan divide leading observers to say the debate was more about the 2014 elections.
The political stakes were clear: Rep. Bill O'Brien, the former Tea Party Republican Speaker of the House, was the prime sponsor of the bill. Other sponsors included John Cebrowski, R-Bedford, and Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry.
A large union presence, including members of the NHAFL-CIO and Professional Firefighters of NH, listened intently from the House gallery.
Baldasaro argued that it was a jobs bill. "The bottom line is that this isn't about unions–this here right to work–it's not about unions," he said. "This is about the freedom to choose."
Rep. Pamela Tucker, R-Greenland, spoke in favor of the bill, saying economic data from right-to-work states underscores the benefits.
"Right to work benefits citizens of all economic levels," Tucker said. "It's actually a great anti-poverty program that helps our state in two ways: higher unemployment and lower welfare rolls."
Democrats, including Rep. Jan Schmidt, D-Nashua, pilloried the GOP arguments over social media. "RTW is bad for NH," Schmidt tweeted.
House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, said Republican supporters offered an unconvincing argument that the bill would improve the state's economy.
Rep. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, argued that it is wrong to force employees to pay fees as a condition of employment. The bill does not, Daniels said under questioning from the floor, get rid of collective bargaining for unions.
Cebrowski, one of the bill's sponsors, said he'd make only one point: the need for state revenue. Business taxes account for about 23 percent of general fund budget revenues. One proven way to broaden the tax base, he said, is to pass right-to-work to inspire businesses to relocate to New Hampshire.
O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, took to the floor at the end of the debate to frame the argument. He said it is wrong to force a citizen to pay dues as a matter of employment. "It is outrageous to have to pay a private, politically charged organization in order to obtain and keep taxpayer-funded public employment," O'Brien said.
O'Brien, when he was Speaker of the House in the last legislative session, saw right-to-work legislation to passage, only to see then Gov. John Lynch, D-Hopkinton, veto it. The House in late 2011 failed to override the Lynch veto.
At some point, O'Brien said from the well of the House, right-to-work laws are coming.
Some reaction to Wednesday's vote included:
Corey R. Lewandowski, state director of the Americans for Prosperity-NH:
“We believe NH workers should have the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. It is disappointing that the House would vote to deny workers that right. Becoming a Right to Work state leads to more job opportunities and attracts new employers to a state. With this vote, the House is choosing to make NH less competitive with other states that do have Right to Work laws.”
House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett:
“According to last year’s WMUR Granite State survey put out by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, 71% of New Hampshire adults, favor Right to Work here. That’s because the majority of Granite Staters know that as long as we continue the practice of forced unionism in New Hampshire, we’re going to lose out on many of the job opportunities that could keep them here. In fact, the 2010 U.S. Census reported that almost 16% of New Hampshire’s young adults have left the state over the past 10 years. We have an obligation to our children and grandchildren graduating college to make New Hampshire a competitive place to work again.”