The nationwide anti-union push is moving to New Hampshire, where the state legislature is considering right-to-work legislation once again.
The proposed legislation would significantly curtail unions' power in the Live Free or Die state. And proponents of the measure in New Hampshire, like their counterparts in Indiana and elsewhere, tout the bill as a way to promote economic growth and deal with the state's jobs problem. Yet, many experts, business owners and promoters of economic development say that the proposed legislation would be unlikely to create jobs or persuade new businesses to open in New Hampshire. In fact, some say, it could hurt the state. Hampshire is tied for having the the nation's fourth lowest unemployment rate, at 5.1 percent.
On Thursday a new right-to-work bill sponsored by Republican Rep. William Smith and others was debated in a hearing. "This is not an anti-union bill -- it's a pro-union member bill," he said, according to the Salem, N.H., Patch.
"I'm sorry to see it come back," said Peter Church, who has owned and operated a printing shop in Manchester, N.H., for 21 years. "It's not something that New Hampshire needs. It's certainly not something that anyone operating a business in New Hampshire wants."
Last December, New Hampshire conservatives failed to overturn Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto of similar legislation. State Republicans call the veto a failure for job growth. "The many companies who have expressed their interest in considering moving new jobs to New Hampshire if we are a right-to-work will not bring relief to the nearly 40,000 unemployed workers across the state," William O'Brien, the Republican speaker of the state House, declared at the time, in a statement. "We have missed an opportunity to grow our economy and help our citizens."
The proposed legislation would prevent union contracts at private sector workplaces from requiring employees to pay dues. A slew of related bills are in the works that also seek to curb union power in the state.
Supporters frame the issue as one of "freedom of choice" -- that workers should be allowed to choose whether they want to pay dues to a union. But in New Hampshire, some employers don't want the government dictating how they interact with their employees.
"I really resent the state government spending all this time trying to come up with rules and regulations that tell me how I can or cannot negotiate collective bargaining with my employees," Church said.
Church, who employs 13 unionized workers, said there is nothing in the legislation that might encourage him to hire more. The main thing that would promote hiring is an increase in demand for products, he said.
Some economic experts have raised concerns that a right-to-work law might slow economic growth rather than speeding it up, in part by cutting into workers' earnings. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed research center, found that for both union and nonunion employees in right-to-work states, wages were $1,500 less per worker each year, after considering cost-of-living and other factors. A working paper by economists from the University of Nevada and Claremont McKenna College concluded that the average wage for nonunion workers dropped 4.3 percent as a result of right-to-work legislation. The study looked at theright-to-work law's impact in Oklahoma, which enacted such legislation in 2001.
Right-to-work activists say that lower wages -- and weakened unions -- are part of the appeal of the law. "The unions typically demand higher wages, so this would provide companies more cost-effective opportunities to bring employees on," said Dan Duncanson, president of Technical Employment Services, a New Hampshire-based staffing firm.
Studies in Oklahoma have shown that lower wages have not spurred employers to hire more. In Oklahoma, employment in manufacturing has declined, even as manufacturing productivity has improved, according to Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank. A separate council study concluded that Oklahoma has been losing more jobs to out-of-state migration than it has gained since the 1980s.
Those involved with the daily business of economic development in New Hampshire say that right-to-work laws fall very low on the list of reasons an employer might consider when deciding about relocation. George Bald, commissioner of New Hampshire's Department of Resources and Economic Development, says in his conversations with business owners over the years -- including many who have been considering moving to the state -- right-to-work measures have simply not come up.
"I just never have had a company ask me about it or tell me that the issue of right to work is a major factor in relocating," Bald said. Factors that Bald cited as considerations for employers include a state's education system, the availability of qualified employees, the digital infrastructure, the tax structure and the quality of life.
"We've never seen evidence that passing right-to-work legislation has been a job creator, and this is why we really see this as an attempt to undermine unions in general," said Zandra Rice-Hawkins, director of Granite State Progress, a progressive advocacy organization based in New Hampshire. "They're doing this for ideological reasons alone, and it would roll back workplace protections that we have fought for for decades."
Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business & Industrial Council Educational Foundation, a nonprofit research organization with nearly 2,000 members including small- and medium-size manufacturers, said that the right-to-work issue has yet to arise as a subject of concern. Rather, high taxation is a frequent source of complaints. "There are many factors that affect the attractiveness of a particular state as a location for manufacturing. And the existence of right-to-work laws can be one, but it's not the only one."
Rep. Smith could not immediately be reached for comment.
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