Right to Work Act Could Change N.H.’s Labor Landscape

April 1, 2011

(Published in the Portsmouth Herald, April 2011)

The recent focus on unionized public employees will surely increase attention on a different bill — the Right to Work Act — passed by the House in February and on Wednesday in the Senate. House Bill 474 affects all employers and employees, public and private, and if it passes the law will change the way you do business.

The purpose of the Right to Work Act is to “maximize individual freedom of choice in the pursuit of employment and to encourage an employment climate conducive to economic growth, that all persons shall have, and shall be protected in the exercise of, the right freely, and without fear of penalty or reprise, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from any such activity.” If passed, New Hampshire would join 23 other states with similar laws, but would be the only state in the Northeast to do so.

Will the Right to Work Act really protect free choice in labor?

To accomplish the goals of its stated purpose, the Right to Work Act guarantees “freedom of choice” and declares “no person shall be required, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment …; to resign or refrain from voluntary membership, affiliation or financial support of a labor organization; to become or remain a member of a labor organization; to pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization; to pay any charity or other third party, in lieu of such payments, any amount equivalent to or a pro-rata portion of dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of a labor organization; or to be recommended, approved, referred, or cleared by or through a labor organization.” The act guarantees this “freedom of choice” of employment by prohibiting coercion and intimidation by union members against non-union members, creating criminal and civil enforcement measures and by allowing the attorney general’s office to investigate violations.

The Right to Work Act prohibits the employer from deducting union dues from an employee’s paycheck unless the employee gives written authorization for such a deduction. The law makes it illegal for a union to strike, picket, boycott, or take any other action “for the sole purpose of inducing or attempting to induce an employer to enter into any agreement prohibited under this chapter.” The employer will also be required to “post and keep continuously displayed” and provide to every new employee hired an Employees Freedom of Choice Notice outlining the guaranteed protections of the law.

Even though the bill has passed the Republican-controlled Senate, Gov. John Lynch has said he will veto it. This is a bill to watch. While experts disagree over the benefits of a Right to Work law it seems that, if passed, the Right to Work Act could decrease labor union member enrollment. Since the power of a labor union rests with its members, this bill has the power to forever change the labor landscape in this state.

Neil B. Nicholson is an attorney at the law firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, P.A. He can be reached at 628-1483 or neil.nicholson@mclane.com. The firm maintains offices in Manchester, Concord and Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Woburn, Massachusetts.