Right-to-work laws are making a huge comeback, with five states passing legislation in the last five years. Later this month, New Hampshire could join that number, becoming the first state in the Northeast to prohibit workers from being required to support a union as a condition of employment.
"We've passed it before [in 2011]. It's just that it got vetoed by a Democratic governor," said Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Rockingham, the statehouse's speaker pro tempore and a co-sponsor of the legislation. "We believe it will pass the House again this time."
Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Merrimack, another co-sponsor, said the House vote would be a toss-up. "When it passed in 2011 there were more Republicans [in the chamber]."
Right-to-work legislation prohibits union-management contracts that force workers to join the union or pay it a regular fee if they want to keep their jobs. Unions defend such provisions, dubbed "security clauses," arguing that they are owed the money because collective bargaining benefits all workers.
The state AFL-CIO labor federation has attacked the legislation, saying, "New Hampshire deserves real solutions to real problems, not attempts to limit working people's voice in their communities."
It states on its website that right-to-work would "cut our wages and benefits and make our workplaces less safe" despite the fact that no provision in the legislation directly affects wages or benefits.
The laws are correlated with weaker unions because they allow individual workers to opt of membership or any related fees, reducing membership rolls and draining treasuries.
As far as Packard is concerned, that is a feature, not a bug. "I am sick and tired of the unions charging people these security fees and then turning around and spending it on political stuff the workers don't agree with," he said.
Passing the legislation would make New Hampshire the 28th state to adopt a right-to-work law. The state, however, could be beaten to the punch by Missouri, whose statehouse passed right-to-work legislation on Thursday. That bill is awaiting the signature of Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, a staunch supporter.
Either way, New Hampshire would be the first state in the Northeast with such a law. Supporters hope that will make it more competitive in attracting businesses.
"We've heard a lot of businesses won't even consider a state that isn't right-to-work," McGuire said.