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Jan 11, 2017 12:22 AM

After long and heated hearing, right to work bill passes first hurdle

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – The full state Senate could vote as early as next week on a controversial right to work bill, NH1 News has learned.

On Tuesday, following a nearly five hour long state Senate Commerce Committee hearing that at times turned contentious, the measure passed 3-2 in a party line vote. The panel’s three Republicans, Sens. Andy Sanborn, Dan Innis and Harold French voted in favor of the measure, with Democratic Sens. Donna Soucy and Bette Lasky opposed.

The hearing was held in the state House of Representatives chamber and was packed with hundreds of union members opposed to the legislation, which would prohibit public and private sector unions from charging non-members fees for negotiating on their behalf.

They loudly cheered many of those testifying against the bill, and at times jeered witnesses who supported the measure. Innis, the freshman senator chairing his first hearing, repeatedly called on those in attendance “to please refrain from applause and other activities so we continue to move this forward.”

After he was immediately booed, he instantly added “including booing.”

Proponents of the bill, which would make New Hampshire the first right to work state in New England, said it would give the Granite State a competitive advantage over its neighbors in the fight for attracting new companies.

“This bill will help NH attract businesses and promote itself as a good place to do business. No other state in New England has such a law so the law would unquestionably allow us in New Hampshire to distinguish itself from our local neighbors,” argued Tom Sullivan, vice president of Ruger Firearms operation in Newport.

Sullivan also testified that the firearms manufacture decided against adding a new plant in New Hampshire because the state didn’t have a right to work law.

Other sponsors of the measure contested that workers shouldn’t be forced to pay dues to get a job.

“I support this legislation for liberty, ok, for liberty reasons, because I believe that no person in this state should be forced to take a dime out of their pocket to get a job,” Republican state Rep. Al Baldsaro said.

Some proponents of bill booed

Matthew Lean, the vice president of the national Right to Work Committee, was booed when he compared non-union employees paying union dues to being kidnapped in a taxi and then forced to pay the fare.

And Jim Roach of the Business and Industry Association was booed after he contested that “passing right to work legislation in New Hampshire will help counterbalance unsustainable energy costs, high business taxes, high health care costs.”

Democratic State Rep. Mark Mackenzie, a former president of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO, received a standing ovation from the union workers in the chamber when he said “I rise in opposition to this legislation. I hope you take that into consideration. And I hope as you hear from the more than 400 hundred people who are here that this the wrong thing for New Hampshire.”

Larry Preston, the owner of a small business that repairs appliances, argued that “what this state needs is more workers, not business. At the (state) unemployment rate at 2.7%, many of us are struggling to find workers.”

“We need an environment that encourages more workers to move to New Hampshire, not employers. Let’s be honest, this bill does nothing in that regard,” he added.

Preston then charged that “this bill is designed to hurt, hinder, and kill unions.”

Bob Jones, a union leader from Derry, said “this bill does nothing more than insert government where it isn’t needed: the employer-employee negotiations.”

And he added that “study after study shown that these laws depress wages and reduce benefits for all workers regardless of whether or not they have a union.”

Others who opposed the measure said that workers should pay for benefits they gain through collective bargaining and that the right to work bill would weaken union finances, which would the push for fair working conditions and wages.

The measure, known officially as the New Hampshire Right to Work Act, now moves to the full state Senate, where the GOP holds a 14-10 majority. With state Sen. Sharon Carson the only Republican in the chamber opposed to the legislation, it’s expected to pass.

But the big question is whether a similar bill can pass the GOP dominated state House of Representatives, where there’s support from the leadership to exempt public sector unions from the measure.

New governor supports bill

Over the past decade similar bills failed to pass in both chambers. In 2011, a right to work bill did make it to the Corner Office, but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

But Chris Sununu, the first Republican governor in a dozen years, says he’ll sign such a bill.

Sununu campaigned in favor of the legislation in his election last year and in his inaugural address last week he said “we are going to give employees once and for all the flexibility they deserve in the workforce by passing right to work. Let’s tell these companies that New Hampshire is open for business.”

A right to work law would assist Sununu as he begins to make good on his campaign promise to visit 100 out-of-state companies in his first 100 days in order to bring new businesses into New Hampshire.

This past weekend Kentucky became the 27th state to adopt right to work legislation.

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