New Hampshire could become the nation's 28th right to work state after the GOP-controlled Senate passed a bill banning union membership as a condition of employment.
The right to work bill, which is modeled after legislation passed in more than half of states, prevailed by one vote in New Hampshire's high chamber, 12-11, on a near-party line vote. If the bill passes the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, New Hampshire could become the first state in New England to adopt right to work.
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Jennifer Horn, the state GOP chair, called the passage one of "the first steps in protecting the freedoms of New Hampshire workers." She said the bill would protect workers' freedom of assembly, since they would no longer be forced to pay union dues or fees in order to keep their jobs.
"Each and every Granite Stater should be able to choose which organization they want to be a part of and no one person should be forced to have another organization speak on their behalf," Horn said. "Republicans campaigned and won on the issue of worker freedom and we will continue to deliver results for all of New Hampshire."
More than 60,000 New Hampshire workers are dues-paying union members, while 73,000 are represented by unions. Union membership rates have slid in the state in recent years, declining from 11.1 percent in 2011 to 9.7 percent in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unions have protested the bill over the past week. New Hampshire's largest and most influential unions, including the state chapters of the AFL-CIO, National Education Association, and Teamsters, decried the bill's passage as a blow to workers.
"This bill is not about improving New Hampshire’s economy or increasing the freedoms of any worker in the Granite State. Instead it is an attack on all working families by special interests seeking to lower wages for everyone and undermine worker protections," the labor leaders said in a release.
Those sentiments were echoed by the state Democratic Party. Donna Soucy, deputy Democratic leader of the state senate, said in a release that the party is committed to blocking the bill. Soucy criticized Republicans for attempting to "interfere with the relationship between employers and their employees."
"I'm disappointed that instead of focusing on legislation that expands opportunity and increases wages for everyone, Republicans are rushing to pass a divisive bill that makes it harder for people in New Hampshire to earn a living and support a family," she said in a release.
In recent years, right to work laws have passed in a number of states, including traditional union strongholds, as the Republican Party has gained control of a record number of statehouses. Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia adopted right to work law between 2012 and 2016. After winning both houses of the Kentucky legislature for the first time in almost a century, Kentucky passed right to work in the Senate on Jan. 7, two days after it passed the House. In Missouri, newly-elected Republican Gov. Eric Greitens has pledged to sign a right to work bill, which passed the legislature in 2015 before being vetoed by his Democratic predecessor Jay Nixon.
The New Hampshire bill will now head to the state's House of Representative, which Republicans control by a 226-174 margin. Newly elected Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has pledged to sign the bill if it passes.