• print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

New Hampshire Republicans Are Using Covid to Ram Through Right-to-Work Legislation

Share this post

As fellow Democrats reveled in Donald Trump’s presidential defeat, New Hampshire State Rep. Doug Ley (also president of the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire) watched the election results with unease. Republicans captured both chambers of the General Court of New Hampshire, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu handily won a third term. 

In New Hampshire, a unified right-wing government is on a collision course with organized labor. And, aided by poor pandemic safety protocols (deterring Democratic officials from the State House), the GOP has its best chance in a generation to remake the Granite State. 

Right-wing interest groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperityhave long pushed for conservative reforms such as so-called education savings accounts, which critics say will divert public funds toward private and religious education. But their true prize?—?and the greatest source of consternation for unions like the American Federation of Teachers?—?is a Senate bill known as SB 61.

SB 61 would make New Hampshire the 29th right-to-work state in the country, creating what Ley calls an ?“entering wedge into the Northeast.”

Right-to-work laws, which originated in the Jim Crow South, prohibit unions from negotiating contracts that require dues from non-union members for the benefits provided by the union?—?in practice choking off union funding. Over the past decade, the laws have expanded into labor strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin. New Hampshire has debated becoming a right-to-work state since former President Reagan took office, but more labor-friendly Republican state officials have resisted.

Legislators like Democratic State Rep. Brian Sullivan say there is now a new extremism in the Republican caucus. The Free State Project—“an effort to basically turn [New Hampshire] into a libertarian island”?—?is part of a larger ideological shift that is, he says, ?“definitely growing.” 

Campaign spending has helped shape the New Hampshire legislature, too. A report in the New Hampshire Union Leader finds political action committees contributed nearly $100,000 to Republican state Senate candidates by exploiting a loophole that allows special interests to make multiple contributions. In this case, every contribution was traced to a single advocacy group, the New England Citizens for Right to Work, and to its out-of-state donors. 

Glenn Brackett, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, says legislators who accepted ?“out-of-state money” should have to answer to the public. “[It was] an abdication of their sworn constitutional duties to the citizens of New Hampshire and their constituents,” Brackett explains. ?“Right to work is not an organic program. … It’s being driven completely by out-of-state special interests, and [people] are accepting basically campaign contributions for their votes.”

New Hampshire also has a requirement for legislators to attend sessions in person, despite the risks posed by Covid-19. That requirement could pave the way for right to work this year, despite past defeats. ?“We have a lot of Democrats that are not going to the general sessions because of concerns about Covid,” according to Democratic State Rep. Dan Toomey. ?“If everything were normal, I wouldn’t be worried about [right to work] at all.” 

House Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Renny Cushing (who has stage four cancer), sued Republican Speaker of the House Sherman Packard over the requirement, alleging Packard violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to make remote accommodations for legislators with serious health risks. But a district court dismissed the suit February 22.

Toomey’s fears appear to be warranted. Other controversial bills have already advanced despite several state lawmakers being unable to cast votes, including anti-choice legislation passed two days after the district court’s ruling. According to the Union Leader, House Republicans also reversed the previous Democratic majority’s positions on education aid, gun control and redistricting that same week. The New Hampshire AFL-CIO has since distributed personal protective equipment in an effort to address the safety concerns of legislators from both parties. 

Montana’s legislature voted down right-to-work legislation March 2, and a similar bill has been reintroduced in the Missouri state legislature, but New Hampshire would become the first right-to-work state in the Northeast?—?with potentially far-reaching consequences. 

“When states like Wisconsin and Michigan went down to right to work, it was a message to the entire country that states that have a long labor tradition can be vulnerable to anti-labor legislation,” Sullivan says. ?“Wisconsin had the first public-sector bargaining law, and now they don’t have one.” 

Although hopeful that unions and legislative allies can stop right to work and other conservative priorities, Ley is preparing for a fight. 

“Labor unions lead the way,” Ley says. ?“The gains that we’re able to make often get transferred to and aid those who are not members of our unions. [This is] a corporate assault on working families and working people across the United States.”

This blog originally appeared atIn These Times on March 29, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: C.M. Lewis is an editor of Strikewave and a union activist in Pennsylvania. 


Share this post

The Union Bond

Share this post

Dave Dell Isola, the son and grandson of union members, grew up grateful for the family-sustaining wages and benefits that organized labor won for working people.

But he never fully grasped the might of solidarity until he and his wife, Barbara, and their two sons lost everything in an apartment fire. Dell Isola’s brothers and sisters in the United Steelworkers (USW) rushed to the couple’s side with financial assistance and other support to help them through the tragedy.

“They had me in tears,” recalled Dell Isola, now vice president of USW Local 12012, which represents hundreds of natural gas and propane industry workers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The union bond is so powerful that corporate interests and their allies across the country desperately want to smash it.

Twenty-seven states already have falsely named right-to-work (RTW) laws on the books, and advocates of these union-busting measures now hope to enact them in New Hampshire and Montana.

In addition, corporations and their allies want to make another effort to ram the legislation through in Missouri, even though angry voters there rejected it by a landslide just a few years ago. And Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want to enshrine their anti-worker law in the state constitution, just to make it more difficult for wiser heads to repeal the legislation one day.

Working people only win fair wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions when they stand together. Solidarity also gives union members the grit to survive battles like the months-long lockout that Dell Isola and his co-workers at National Grid in Massachusetts endured during their successful fight for a fair contract.

Corporations want to rig the scales in their favor. They push RTW laws so they can divide workers—tear at the union bond—and exploit them more easily.

These laws allow workers to opt out of supporting unions while still reaping the benefits. Unions remain legally bound to represent workers regardless of whether they pay dues.

And just as corporations want, that erodes union activism and starves locals like Dell Isola’s of the resources they need to bargain with strength, enforce contracts, build solidarity and survive labor disputes.

“It snowballs into not being able to represent people,” explained Dell Isola, noting the laws’ corrosive force not only helps employers depress wages but claw back sick time and other benefits earned with the sweat, blood and unity of previous generations of union members. “It’s un-American to expect people to work for you, bargain for you, and not pay them anything.”

Workers call them “right-to-work-for-less” laws. That’s because people in states with RTW legislation earn 3 percent lower wages, on average, than their peers in other parts of the country.

Also, workers in these states are less likely to have employer-provided health insurance and retirement plans, but more likely to die in workplace incidents, than their counterparts elsewhere.

Nobody, outside of corporations and conservative groups, wants these laws, Dell Isola said, pointing out that officials in New Hampshire rejected the legislation dozens of times over the years “because of the outrage of the people.”

Yet out-of-state agitators with deep pockets are bankrolling another push, hoping they can dupe the Republican legislature and governor into enacting it.

“They’re trying to weasel their way into the Northeast by starting with New Hampshire,” explained Dell Isola, noting an overwhelming cross-section of voters, local government officials and business owners not only adamantly opposes the bill but resents the outsiders’ efforts to foist it on them.

When Republicans and corporations schemed to enact the legislation in Missouri four years ago, John “Tiny” Powell knew how much he and other workers stood to lose. So he joined a broad-based grassroots movement to overturn the law with a first-of-its-kind referendum.

Powell, vice president of USW Local 169G and an electrician at Mississippi Lime Co. in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., stood at a busy intersection for hours and helped to gather 800 of the signatures needed to get the referendum on the ballot.

Ultimately, he and other activists delivered an astonishing 310,000 signatures to state election officials—more than three times the number required—and celebrated the coming referendum with a rally so large that the state Capitol “sounded like a hornet’s nest.”

Powell put hundreds of miles on his car as he traveled dusty rural roads and stopped at one house after another to educate voters about the importance of killing RTW through the referendum.

He explained that dues are a small price to pay for the benefits unions provide. And Powell, who takes pride in his local’s bargaining power every time a member can afford to buy a house or welcome a baby, stressed that strong unions mean strong families.

“These companies are not going to give you everything out of the goodness of their hearts,” Powell said. “They start sweating when they see you standing together.”

Just as Missouri voters turned out in force to strike down a law they never wanted, Dell Isola and a large coalition of New Hampshire residents are working hard to defeat the legislation there.

If enacted, he said, many workers simply won’t stand for it.

As soon as employers take steps to dilute union membership, drag down pay and cut corners on safety, he predicted, many will take jobs in Massachusetts or other states. They’ll go where workers still stand together and fight for the wages, benefits and working conditions that sustained Dell Isola’s family for generations.

“My blood’s been in the union a long time,” he said. “I wouldn’t go any other way.”

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on February 16, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


Share this post

After Janus, Cities and Towns Are Poised to Become the New Battleground Over “Right to Work”

Share this post

In December 2015, Lincolnshire, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a population of a little over 7,000, passed a right-to-work (RTW) ordinance. While a slim majority of states have enacted RTW laws over the past several decades, RTW measures at the county or municipal level are rare in comparison. A group of unions quickly sued to strike down the ordinance, and after nearly three years of litigation, the next stop for the legal battle might be the Supreme Court.

The unions have been successful so far in their fight against the ordinance, winning first in the U.S. District Court and then again after Lincolnshire appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. But on February 14, Lincolnshire filed a petitionwith the Supreme Court, which will now decide whether it will hear the village’s appeal. Lincolnshire is being represented in the lawsuit by the Liberty Justice Center, one of the groups that represented plaintiff Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME, the case that abolished public-sector fair-share fees nationwide.

The legal arguments in the case, which is named Village of Lincolnshire v. IUOE Local 399, are not particularly complicated. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) clearly allows employers and unions to enter into union security agreements, which require workers to pay union dues (or reduced “fair-share fees” for non-members). However, a provision in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act allows states to pass RTW laws, which permit workers to refuse to pay union dues while still enjoying all of the benefits of union representation. The unions argue that the Taft-Hartley provision means what it says—that states can pass RTW laws, not counties or cities. Lincolnshire argues that the law’s reference to “states” actually includes states and their subordinate political bodies.

Allowing local RTW ordinances could lead to what the unions described in their Seventh Circuit brief as a “crazy-quilt” of overlapping and inconsistent regulations. Illinois alone could be home to more than 300 different RTW ordinances among counties and municipalities with home rule authority. And numerous different laws could apply to the same collective bargaining agreement, as agreements commonly cover multiple facilities or job sites.

There is reason to suspect that the Supreme Court will decide to hear Lincolnshire’s appeal. The Seventh Circuit’s decision in favor of the unions conflicted with a 2016 decision of the Sixth Circuit, UAW Local 3047 v. Hardin County, which held that counties and municipalities have the legal authority to enact RTW measures. The Supreme Court will often hear an appeal to resolve this kind of conflict, which is called a circuit split. Troublingly, the Supreme Court refused to hear the UAW’s appeal of the Sixth Circuit decision, leaving that decision as law of the land in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and potentially tipping the justices’ hands on the issue.

In Janus, the right-wing majority of the Supreme Court overturned more than 40 years of precedent to make the country’s entire public sector RTW. There is no reason to expect Justice Kavanaugh to be any more sympathetic to labor rights than now-retired Justice Kennedy. If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it may well be the next step in the steady erosion of labor rights that has occurred under the Roberts Court.

Meanwhile, local RTW laws have started to spread elsewhere. Lobbying efforts by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity have made quick progress in New Mexico, with 10 of the state’s 33 counties and one village passing RTW ordinances since January 2018. The group previously used the same county-by-county approach in Kentucky, where over a dozen counties passed RTW ordinances before statewide RTW legislation passed in 2017.

In Delaware, attacks on unions at the local level have been less successful. In late 2017 and early 2018, two local governments in the state were considering RTW measures. While a proposal in Sussex County eventually stalled following union protests and warnings from the Delaware Attorney General and the county’s own attorney that the county lacked the legal authority to enact the proposal, the town of Seaford quietly enacted a RTW ordinance without holding any public hearings. The Seaford ordinance was quickly quashed in June 2018 when Governor John Carney signed legislation permitting private union security agreements statewide.

Local RTW laws have been slow to spread in part because local governments like Sussex County fear that they violate the NLRA. But with union busters running out of states in which they could realistically seek to pass RTW laws, they have looked to local RTW laws as a way to make inroads into non-RTW states. If the Supreme Court gives local RTW laws their blessing, the significant legal risks will be removed and right-wing groups will begin pushing them on counties and towns throughout the country.

What can the labor movement do in the meantime? One strategy is legislative. In states where Democrats hold the governorship and the majority in both state legislatures, we can push politicians to follow the Delaware approach and enact laws guaranteeing the right to enter into union security agreements. But even after significant Democratic gains in the midterm elections, there are only 13 of these states other than Delaware.

Another strategy is for private-sector unions to conduct vigorous internal organizing campaigns as public sector unions did in preparation for Friedrichs v. CTA and then Janus. Unlike public-sector unions, private-sector unions do not have onerous restrictions on the subjects over which they can collectively bargain, which many public sector unions have been forced to deal with in recent years. These campaigns to increase worker participation in existing unions and to sign up fair-share-fee payers as full members will prepare unions to contend with local RTW laws in unexpected locations, while also building stronger unions if we are fortunate enough to avoid another attack from the Supreme Court.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Nick Johnson is a union lawyer in New York.

Share this post

In Crosshairs of Right-to-Work, Kentucky Bourbon Makers Go On Strike

Share this post

More than 50 workers in Kentucky are on strike due to a contract dispute with Four Roses, a bourbon maker with a distillery in Lawrenceburg and a bottling plant in Cox’s Creek. Workers say Four Roses is attempting to adopt a two-tier system that would reduce the benefits for new employees of the company. Members of three different unions walked off their jobs at these sites on September 7.

The move to establish a two-tier system is especially concerning to union leaders because Kentucky became a “right to work” state in 2017, which means that workers are no longer required to pay union dues. A reduction in benefits would presumably give new Four Roses employees less incentive to support the unions financially, potentially dealing an irreparable blow to the company’s organized labor. Since the law passed, 16,000 workers in Kentucky have opted out of paying their union dues.

The unions on strike are United Food and Commercial Workers 10D, United Food and Commercial Workers 23D and Service Employees International Union/National Conference of Firemen and Oilers.

Jeffrey Royalty is the president of the UFCW Local 10D. He told In These Times that the Four Roses’ two-tier proposal is designed to “short change the next generation.” According to Royalty, “For these corporations, ‘right to work’ really means ‘right to take.’ He added that this system will destroy any organization.”

Royalty’s position was echoed by Tim Morris, the political director of Greater Louisville Central Labor Council. Morris told In These Times that the “whole premise” of two-tier system was to “create a divide in the workforce … cause animosity, drive a wedge and make workers not want to stand up and fight when others are attacked.” Morris emphasized, “The people on strike know that to help future employees, they need to stand up for workers now.”

The strike is occurring at a time when tourists are flocking to the area for this week’s Kentucky Bourbon Festival, an annual gathering that features an event at Four Roses’ distillery. Royalty says support from the community has been “outstanding” and that many people have dropped off food and ponchos to the picketing workers.

Four Roses, which has existed since 1888 and was purchased by Japan’s Kirin Company in 2002, said in a statement regarding the strike, “A claim that we are proposing a ‘two-tier’ sick leave policy that discriminates against new hires is not true. We agree that the new hires would not receive the same sick leave benefits as current employees, but we believe the new hires’ program is better, not worse.”

Kentucky’s Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit launched by unions over the state’s “right to work” law. The unions are arguing that the law was passed in violation of the Kentucky Constitution. The “right to work” law was swiftly passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and not put up for a popular vote. 

“It’s really not ‘right to work,’ it’s a right for employees to not pay their fair share for the costs of union representation,” Irwin Cutler, the attorney arguing the lawsuit, has argued. “What we see here is an effort to destroy unions, to weaken unions.”

Four Roses and the striking workers are slated to resume negotiations on September 21.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.


Share this post

Subscribe For Updates

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, sign up to receive our email newsletter:

* indicates required

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.