The war over public employee collective bargaining has moved to New Hampshire, where the Tea Party-controlled legislature has taken up consideration of a bill banning collective bargaining in the state.
The state House Labor Committee is hearing testimony Thursday regarding a package of bills that local labor leaders consider the latest in a series of attacks on public employees. Among these are bills to prohibit collective bargaining among public employees, a bill to prohibit the collection of union dues from wages and a bill eliminating lunch breaks for workers. The bills follow a contentious debate over right-to-work legislation in the Granite State that resulted in the legislature narrowly sustaining Gov. John Lynch's (D) veto in early December.
"We had a drawn out right-to-work fight," said Mark Mackenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO. "We have a group that is not in favor of organized labor. They see the second part of the session to focus on their ideological views of labor."
Mackenzie was referencing the Republican-controlled House, which has been dominated by Tea Party-affiliated members since the 2010 election. House Speaker Bill O'Brien (R-Mont Vernon) made the right-to-work bill a priority of his in the 2011 session. Several protests have been held in Concord this week by labor groups.
At the heart of the package of bills is a proposal to end the rights of public employees to use collective bargaining to negotiate for all wages and benefits. The bill reaches farther than proposals passed last year in Wisconsin and Ohio that took away most collective bargaining rights from public employees. The Ohio law was overturned in a voter referendum in November and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) faces a recall election later this year based in part on the collective bargaining law.
"When you put it all together, it is Wisconsin and Ohio on steroids," said David Lang, president of the New Hampshire firefighters' union.
Lang warned that the repeal of collective bargaining and possible defunding of unions could prompt a return to state and local governments laden with political patronage. He said that prior to the start of collective bargaining in the 1960s, state legislators helped control promotions and salaries of individual public employees.
Mackenzie said he sees the proposals as part of a move by Republicans to help GOP prospects in future elections, noting that dismantling unions would take labor out of the political game. He also said he does not think the entire package will pass and that the end game is clear.
"It will come down to two or three of them," he said of the bills. "The prize is right-to-work."
Republicans sponsoring these measures and a spokeswoman for O'Brien did not return multiple requests for comment from HuffPost.
Since Tea Party legislators took control of the House, a number of conservative-leaning bills have been proposed. Among these are measures to roll back the state's domestic violence laws, allow only legislature-approved candidates to run for the U.S. Senate and a ban on teaching evolution, and a new law that allows parents to rewrite school curriculum for their child.
Labor groups pledged to continue to fight the proposals on the full House floor and with the Republican-controlled Senate and Lynch, if needed. Lang asserted that passage of the package would hurting the state in the long term.
"It strikes at the heart of the New Hampshire advantage," he said. "That is good quality services at affordable prices."
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