Four members of a legislative study committee were briefed on public employee collective bargaining at the committee’s second meeting, September 29, at the New Hampshire State House. Committee members, most of whom have voting records hostile to organized labor, has not yet revealed what agenda they are trying to advance. But labor activists are watching closely.
The committee was established by HB 580, which gives no mandate other than to conduct a study. But its Chair is Rep. Gary Daniels, who as chair of the House Labor Committee led the effort to turn New Hampshire into a right-to-work-for-less state. He is also New Hampshire Co-Chair for ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a privately funded national group infamous for developing and promoting the legislative agenda of big business and market fundamentalists.
Douglas Ingersoll, Executive Director and Counsel for the NH Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB, but typically called “the Plerb”), led off the meeting with a general explanation of the law governing formation of unions in the public sector, contract negotiations, and dispute resolution. Public employers have a “good faith obligation to bargain,” he said, and generally recognize the benefit of dealing with a single entity that represents all members of a bargaining unit.
In response to a question from Rep. Daniels, Ingersoll explained that bargaining unit members do not have to be union members, but can be required to pay “agency fees” under the terms of collective bargaining agreements. This practice would be prohibited if right-to-work-for-less becomes law.
Ingersoll strangely refused to give a definitive answer to Rep. Steven Winter’s question about the obligation to represent all bargaining unit members if right-to-work-for-less becomes law. The answer seems pretty clear, and can be found in the FAQ section of the PELRB web page:
“Even if you do not join the union, the union still has to negotiate your wages and benefits and represent you in any complaint against your employer.”
That’s why opponents of right-to-work-for-less argue the law would enable non-members to become freeloaders.
Ingersoll told the legislators that the passage of RSA 273-A, which sets out the legal framework for collective bargaining in the public sector, followed “labor unrest” in the mid-1970s. In exchange for a process outlining how unions can be certified as representatives for workers at the municipal, county, and state levels, workers lost the right to strike or conduct “job actions.”
The PELRB chief left legislators with a binder of materials, which Rep. Daniels instructed them to study.
Terri Donovan, who negotiates contracts for the NH Federation of Teachers, also delivered a notebook for members to study. Her testimony, focused on how to improve the collective bargaining and dispute resolution process, was cut off when the meeting ended at 10 AM. She’ll be first up for the next meeting, which will probably be held during the week of October 17.
As for HB 474, the bill that would turn New Hampshire into a right-to-work-for-less state, labor activists still believe they have sufficient allies in the NH House to sustain the Governor’s veto. The next House session is October 12.