(Recasts and adds quote from governor)
By Scott Malone
Feb 16 New Hampshire lawmakers on Thursday
blocked a bill that would have allowed employees in
union-represented jobs to opt out of paying their dues, a rare
defeat in a Republican-controlled legislature for one of the
party's national priorities.
Lawmakers in Missouri and Kentucky this year had already
passed similar "right to work" measures, which are now in place
in 28 U.S. states.
Despite support from New Hampshire's Republican Governor
Chris Sununu, even advocates had acknowledged before the vote
that it could fail, and the 200-177 margin showed significant
numbers of Republicans voted against it.
One was a Republican representative, firefighter and Iraq
war veteran who told his colleagues at the statehouse in Concord
that unions had been instrumental in helping his fellow soldiers
find well-paying work after returning home from war.
"Do we really want lower wages for our constituents?" asked
the firefighter, Representative Sean Morrison. "Let us really
work on what really brings jobs to our state."
Advocates of the idea had argued that it was necessary to
help the state retain and attract large employers.
"The arguments used against passage of 'right to work' all
have been heard before in other states," said Representative
Laurie Sanborn, a Republican. "Nothing in this bill prevents or
discourages anyone from joining a union if they wish. It just
gives people a choice."
Labor unions say the laws undercut them by allowing people
to avoid paying dues while still gaining the benefits and pay
negotiated by the union.
Sununu, whose father, John Sununu, served as New Hampshire
governor and later in the first Bush administration, signaled he
would be moving on after the defeat.
"'Right to work,' though important, is just one piece of a
broader effort to promote economic development," he said.
Union membership in New Hampshire is below the national
average, with organized labor representing 9.4 percent of
working people in the state compared with 10.7 percent
nationwide, according to federal government data.
"Nationwide this is a hallmark Republican issue, but here it
New Hampshire it's not so much of a litmus test," said Neil
Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of
The vote came a day after the U.S. labor movement notched a
major loss in South Carolina, the least unionized state, when
workers at a Boeing Co plant voted not to join the
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; editing by David Gregorio
and Tom Brown)