CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire rejected legislation Thursday targeting labor unions despite aggressive lobbying from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who had considered it a top priority for his administration.
The defeat of the so-called right-to-work legislation in the House reflects a rift among Republicans over a key piece of the party’s platform. The bill called for prohibiting unions from charging fees to nonmembers for the costs of representation and is part of a national push by Republicans and pro-business groups.
New Hampshire was targeted as the next likely state to approve the bill, following Kentucky and Missouri earlier this year. The defeat also came as the Republican-controlled legislature in Iowa approved a bill Thursday that would eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public workers in the state. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign it.
In New Hampshire, 32 of the 223 House Republicans bucked the new governor’s wishes over concerns the bill would weaken unions and hurt workers. Supporters, including Sununu, had argued it would boost worker freedom and make New Hampshire more business friendly.
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It passed the Senate last month.
“While it is clear that some House members did not understand this opportunity to unleash the untapped potential of our economy, I know that we can continue to work collaboratively on initiatives that will drive new business into the state,” Sununu said in a statement after the vote.
Right-to-work has been debated in New Hampshire since the 1980s. It was vetoed by a Democratic governor in 2011, and Republicans could not muster the votes to override the veto. The Northeast and the West Coast remain the only regions of the country without any right-to-work states.
“Today a bi-partisan majority confirmed that ‘Right to Work’ is still wrong for New Hampshire, and this vote should be the final nail in the coffin,” Glenn Brackett, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, said in a statement. He said workers across the state “stood together against this corporate-backed legislation.”
Sununu made an aggressive last-minute pitch to flip votes before the session began Thursday, several lawmakers said. And state Republican Party Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester had suggested the day before that Republicans who didn’t back the bill might not receive financial help from the party in the next election. Neither strategy worked.
Republican Rep. Sean Morrison, a firefighter, said suggestions that right-to-work would attract businesses into New Hampshire were misplaced. Roughly 9 percent of New Hampshire workers are unionized, according to federal statistics, and between just 3 and 4 percent are in private unions. He argued the legislation would weaken the power of unions, therefore hurting workers.
“I implore you to oppose this attack on our middle class,” Morrison said.
House Speaker Shawn Jasper warned for weeks that he likely didn’t have the votes to pass the bill and suggested it wasn’t an effort worth tearing the party apart over. Still, he commended Sununu for doing his best to pass it.
“He didn’t worry about whether this was going to affect him politically or not,” Jasper said. “So I applaud him for having the courage to go ahead even though he was going against the odds.”
Republican Rep. Frank Sapareto took the speaker’s gavel during debate so Jasper could vote in support of the bill from the floor. No more right-to-work bills can be debated for the rest of the two year session, after House members voted Thursday to “indefinitely postpone” the legislation.
This story has been corrected to show there are 223 Republicans in the New Hampshire House, not 223 House members.