season marked by efforts to curb union power is nearing its end in many states,
but possibly not before further restrictions are imposed.
So-called right-to-work bills that would allow workers to opt out of joining
unions were proposed in 18 states this year, an unusually high number for an
issue that hasn't seen any expansion in a decade. Right-to-work laws, first
permitted under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, are on the books in 22 states,
mostly on the Great Plains and in the South.
Labor experts attribute the current surge in right-to-work legislation to the
same factors singled out for the other labor-unfriendly efforts this session:
state budget woes, Republican gains in the November elections and the influence
of Tea Party groups that are unsympathetic to organized labor.
"The political equation has changed in a lot of states," said Michael
Eastman, Executive Director of Labor Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"Measures that may not have been possible two and four and six years ago
now may be."
Some of this year's measures have already died. In Indiana, for instance, House
Republicans abandoned their right-to-work push to get Democrats who had fled
the state partly in protest of that effort back to the negotiating table. Most
of the other right-to-work bills probably aren't far enough along in the
process to pass before this year's sessions end.
One state where that doesn't appear to be the case, however, is New Hampshire.
Republicans, who took control of both of the state's legislative chambers last
fall, passed a right-to-work bill two weeks ago (HB 474). Last week, Democratic
Gov. John Lynch vetoed it. So whether New Hampshire becomes the first right-to-work
state in the Northeast now hinges on whether House Republicans can come up with
enough votes for an override. The Senate passed the bill with the two-thirds
majority that would be required, but the House vote, 294-102, fell short of
that mark. Forty-seven Republicans voted against the bill and another 22 didn't
vote at all.
Local union officials aren't optimistic about their chances of avoiding an
"I would say that we don't have the votes right now," said Dennis
Caza, political coordinator for International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local
633, in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Supporters of right-to-work legislation in New Hampshire and elsewhere say the
public-employee pensions and benefits set by generous union contracts are a
major contributor to states' fiscal problems, and the state of the national
economy and job market have focused more attention on the issue.
But in vetoing HB 474, Lynch said his state's economy had nothing to gain from
a right-to-work law.
"New Hampshire has a lower unemployment rate and a stronger economy than
most states with so-called right-to-work laws," he wrote in his message to
lawmakers, adding, "In states with a right-to-work law, workers on average
have a lower standard of living," bring home less pay and more often go
without health insurance.
Union officials say the right-to-work measures are nothing but a political
attack, seeking to curb their influence by eliminating their key source of
The aim of right-to-work bills is to "weaken the labor movement in key
states around the country," said Mark MacKenzie, president of the New
Hampshire AFL-CIO. "If you look at the map, it has nothing to do with
protecting workers' rights but taking over key areas of the country" ahead
of the 2012 presidential election. (WALL STREET JOURNAL, UNION LEADER
[MANCHESTER], CONCORD MONITOR)
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