Two hundred teachers, firefighters, state employees, and other labor activists filled seats in Representatives Hall this afternoon to testify against several anti-labor bills, including one which would destroy the right of public sector workers to form unions.
Rep. Andrew Manuse, one of the sponsor of HB 1645. told the House Labor Committee “public sector unions are contrary to the public good.”
His co-sponsor, Rep.George Lambert, was a little less blunt. “What we have is a structure that needs to be modified,” he said. Although the staff of Legislative Services “did exactly what I asked them to do” when they drafted the bill, Lambert said he would propose amended language to fix what he called “unintended consequences.”
With the exception of the lobbyist for New England Right to Work (for less), John Kalb, every speaker opposed the bill in a hearing that went on for over two hours.
Members of the public erupted in applause after a statement by the Rev. Gail Kinney of the S. Danbury United Church of Christ, who told legislators that faith communities have consistently spoken out in favor of the right to bargain collectively. The Roman Catholic Church has spoken out“Pope after Pope, encyclical after encyclical …Protecting the rights of workers “makes our beloved community stronger,” she said.
Gail and I both reminded the committee that the 1968 strike of sanitation workers in Memphis, during which Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, hinged on the rights of public sector workers to organize, bargain collectively, and have their dues voluntarily deducted from their paychecks.
While legislators can try to take away the legal rights of workers, they cannot take away our human rights, nor can they take away the determination of workers to identify their common interest and act in solidarity.
Other bills considered today included renewed attempts to impose right-to-work conditions on public sector workplaces, prohibit dues deductions, and impair the ability of county officials to negotiate with their unions.
Members of Occupy New Hampshire also visited the State House today to deliver a pro-labor message to Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien. The Speaker was apparently not receptive.
There’s more to come in the coming weeks, including the bill to limit membership on the Public Employees Labor Relations Board to business people, and one to end the mandatory lunch break. And we’ll have our eyes on Rep. Lambert’s new proposal regarding the public sector.