Union Members Played Key Role in NH "Right to Work" Battle

June 4, 2021 - In a tremendous victory for working people and their unions in the Granite State, the New Hampshire House of Representatives soundly defeated “Right to Work” legislation on Thursday,  June 3, by a vote of 199-175. That was followed by a 197-178 vote to indefinitely postpone the bill, effectively killing it until at least 2023. The morning of the vote, hundreds of Union members carrying “Vote No” signs lined the streets leading to the NH Sportsplex in Bedford where the session was held.

“This legislative victory was only possible because of the great work done by members of IBEW 1837 and other unions,” said IBEW Local 1837 Organizer and Business Representative Matt Beck. “They contacted their elected representatives to urge them to defeat Right-to-Work, a bill which proponents consider just a first step to eliminating unions altogether.”

The Right-to-Work fight garnered national attention from corporate interests and the Virginia-based National Right to Work Committee after Democrats lost control of the New Hampshire House and Senate last November. Gov. Chris Sununu had supported Right-to-Work in the past and indicated he would sign it if it reached his desk.

When Senate Bill 61, Right-to-Work was introduced, organizers went to work to identify pro-labor Republicans who could help defeat the bill in the Senate or House. After Senate Bill 61 narrowly passed the State Senate 13-11, the focus was squarely on the House and the virtual public hearing in the House Labor Committee that was held on Zoom.

Opponents testifying or signing-in opposed to Right-to-Work easily outnumbered those in favor. Prior to the hearing, it was announced that just over 200 people from New Hampshire had signed on in support of the bill on the NH General Court website while more than 1,700 had signed on in opposition to it, a margin of more than 8 to 1 against Right-to-Work.

“The only purpose of this bill is to increase corporate power at the expense of working people,” IBEW Local 1837 Business Manager Tony Sapienza testified during the hearing. “Obviously, wages and benefits will erode faster or grow slower if corporations are empowered and collective bargaining rights are eroded.”

In addition to workers and their unions, other opponents of the bill testifying included faith leaders, economists, small business owners and larger companies that rely on union apprenticeship programs for a reliable source of skilled workers.  One of the last people to testify against the bill at the House hearing was Pat Moran, a Troubleshooter for Eversource NH and a Chief Steward for IBEW Local 1837.

“I feel strongly that Senate Bill 61, the so-called Right to Work bill does not belong in New Hampshire. I believe this is a means to break unions,” Brother Moran said. “The name itself is a lie. Right to Work doesn’t give anyone any rights or any work. It is meant to hurt unions financially in the hope that they will wither and die.”

After the Republican majority on the House Labor Committee voted the bill out “Ought to Pass,” members of IBEW 1837 participated in virtual meetings with members of the House to talk about the importance of their union in helping to keep them safe on the job and ensuring their good pay and benefits. They also called and emailed their State Reps to ask them to support working families by opposing Right-to-Work.

A final vote had been expected earlier in the session but House leadership postponed it as long as they could while they tried to change the votes of some pro-labor Republicans. A closer final vote had been expected but the resounding defeat surprised some observers on both sides of the issue.

“The New Hampshire AFL-CIO applauds the New Hampshire House of Representatives for voting to indefinitely postpone S.B. 61, harmful legislation that would have made the Granite State the first ‘right to work’ state in the Northeast,” New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Glenn Brackett (IBEW) said in a statement.

“Our labor unions have fought for more than a century to ensure that collective bargaining agreements in the Granite State consist of some of the best union wages, benefits, and jobsite protections in the country,” Brackett continued. “We are extraordinarily grateful for the lawmakers who made the decision today to side with us and our workers.”National AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka congratulated New Hampshire union members on the victory and urged quick passage of the PRO Act.

“While today’s victory is a testament to the strength and will of working people, the reality is we should not have to fear that big corporations and anti-worker politicians are going to pass this legislation in New Hampshire—or anywhere else. That’s why we need the PRO Act because it would eliminate right to work, putting it in the ash heap of history where it belongs,” President Trumka said.  Anti-worker legislators and governors have repeatedly introduced Right-to-Work bills at the New Hampshire State House going back decades only to see them vetoed or defeated each and every time.

“I urge our members in New Hampshire to all the State Reps who voted against Senate Bill 61, especially those who had to buck their party’s leadership to stand with us,” Brother Beck said. “They’d all welcome your call or email expressing your gratitude for their support.”  You can click here to find your State Reps and their contact information. You can click here to see how they voted. (A “Nay” vote means they voted “No” on SB61, Right-to-Work.)

Hundreds of Union members turned out to line the streets outside the NH Sportsplex in Bedford the morning of the final House vote.