New Hampshire On Cusp Of Approving Right-To-Work

May 24, 2011

A vote in New Hampshire will decide whether the Granite State becomes the 23rd state to forbid unions from charging non-members a share of collective bargaining costs.

The Republican-dominated legislature there has already passed a so-called right-to-work bill, which was quickly vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

The override vote Wednesday is expected to be close.

'If It's Not Broke, Don't Fix It'

It's busy outside Representatives Hall at the New Hampshire statehouse these days — and not simply with the professional class of lobbyists who tend to roost there.

"My plan is to speak with as many representatives, whether I know them or not, to ask whether or not they are supporting the governor's veto," says Claire Helfmann, a retired nurse from a union family.

She says she's shocked that a bill lawmakers here have rejected almost ritually is now on the cusp of becoming law.

Sheet metal worker Rick Shea agrees. "We have our way of life in New Hampshire," he says. "We're right now 4.9 percent unemployment — way below average. So for us, we feel if it's not broke don't fix it."

Shea's view is shared by top state labor and economic officials. They say no business inside or outside New Hampshire has ever told them that right-to-work would prompt them to expand or relocate here. But as this bill picked up steam, the business lobby got behind it.

"What drives state economic growth, first, is whether or not a state's got an income tax. New Hampshire does pretty well with that. The second is whether a state's got a right-to-work law," said John Kalb, director of New England Citizens for Right to Work, at a statehouse news conference.

He was flanked by conservative and Tea Party activists. They worked hard during last year's elections, and are working hard now for a law that some say would have been almost unthinkable before Republicans' big 2010 election gains. The GOP went from the minority to holding a 3-to-1 legislative edge. But even with that margin, right-to-work backers admit the override is still touch-and-go.

"We've been calling our legislators nonstop, letting them know that this is why the voters put them in their position last November," says Kevin Smith, who leads the conservative group Cornerstone Action.

Playing With Electoral Fire

Right-to-work's fate here likely rests with the 400-member New Hampshire House, where unlike the state Senate, the earlier votes on the bill weren't veto-proof. House Speaker William O'Brien says he's convinced the needed two-thirds vote will happen.

"Right-to-work is what the people in New Hampshire want," he says. "Members of the caucus are listening to that, and even those who have some concerns about the legislation are going to be stepping forward and saying yes."

Or saying nothing at all: O'Brien's leadership team has also asked Republicans who oppose right-to-work to leave the hall during the override vote — a move that's counter to the spirit of a rule requiring lawmakers to vote if present.

But regardless of the final tally, Lee Quandt says the real vote on the issue won't be taken at the state house. He's a Republican who was removed from the House's Budget Committee for opposing a separate effort to limit collective bargaining rights. Quandt says he has repeatedly warned fellow Republicans they are playing with electoral fire, but he says they aren't listening.

"So let them go, we are just going to duke it out," he says. "This is not going to be the last vote on this issue. The last vote's gonna be in November of 2012. That's the last vote."

If the override succeeds, New Hampshire would be the first state in a decade to enact right-to-work, and the only state in the Northeast. Copyright 2011 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit