Writing from Jackson (formerly known as “Jackson”), I wanted to recount a significant event that recently occurred during the N.H. House of Representatives’ recent session at the State House in Concord (now known as the “Bedford Sports Complex”).
One of the great victories was the defeat of SB 61, or Senate Bill 61, better known as the “Right to Work Bill.” This misnamed bill has come before the House and Senate numerous times and ultimately gone down in defeat, as it should.
Driving into the complex on the morning of June 3, representatives were met by hundreds of sign-carrying demonstrators (union members) protesting the bill. Coming out after the bill’s defeat, we were met by the same expressing heartfelt thanks. I swear I saw tears in more than one demonstrator’s eyes.
The bill came before the House from the Senate with an 11-9 recommendation to pass. In the session, it came up for numerous votes, including for an amendment, tabling, ought to pass and several variants I may have missed in my notes.
Through all of this, the nays held. The Democrats were likely unanimous in their vote, and any number of roll call votes should prove this out. But it also took a good number of Republicans to hold their ground to ensure the defeat. The Republicans were likely under duress from leadership in doing so, but they held tough. Our thanks to them for putting New Hampshire ahead of party.
I received many letters in support of SB 61. I am sure many of these constituents are sincere in their beliefs. But I think many were not aware of the implications of this rather complex issue that has many short- and long-term implications. I will say this: This is a pro-worker and pro-union result, and good for New Hampshire. It is easy to identify that the fall of the middle class in this country and the fall of union membership have gone hand in hand. This may be a small step in a turn-around.
A little additional background: The National Labor Relations Act was adopted in 1938. This confirmed workers could form unions to negotiate contracts with employers regarding pay, working conditions, benefits, etc. This created “closed shops” whereby employees had to join a union and pay dues.
Many employers moved to diminish the power of unions, and over the veto of President Truman, the Taft-Hartley bill was passed in 1947. This allowed states to pass laws allowing employees to opt out of unions but still pay a “fee” in lieu of dues that helped cover union negotiating fees but not political activities. These became known as Right to Work laws or RTW’s. Most of these were passed between 1947 and 1963, and as of now, 26 states have these laws, mostly in the South and West.
RTW laws clearly diminished the power and existence of unions. And that is exactly what they were intended to do: bust unions. Proponents of these laws make the point that employees now have the freedom of choice to join or not join a union. They also point out that business expansion in RTW states exceeds that of states without these laws. And that is correct. Boeing and several car manufacturers, including Mercedes, Honda and Kia, have set up plants in Southern states.
So this must be a good deal, right? Not so fast. The average pay for a similar job in a non-RTW state is about $6,300 a year more. These RTW states have a 51 percent greater mortality rate for workers than do non-RTW states. Overall, mortality is 17 percent higher. Employer contributions to employee health and pension benefits, workman’s compensation and workplace safety is considerably lower in RTW states. Without a union, employees can do nothing about these deficiencies.
It was unions that brought benefits such as a 40-hour workweek, pensions, employer-paid health care, child labor laws and many other benefits we now take for granted in the workplace even though we may not have ever been union members.
RTW laws are a clear movement to lower costs of labor and therefore increase profits for the 1 percent.
New Hampshire already has our own “advantage” to attract businesses. We do not need RTW laws and the many disadvantages they bring that far outweigh any benefits.
Again, our thanks to the many Republicans who joined with Democrats in this bipartisan effort to do the right thing for New Hampshire.
Chris McAleer is a Democratic state representative from Jackson.