Workers – and their allies – are getting ready to fight back
The 2012 session of the New Hampshire legislature, known formally at “the General Court,” began yesterday with debates over usury (they are for it) and guns (they’re for those, too, also crossbows). Today they resumed with debate over HB 383, a bill to weaken the organized force of state employees by barring union contracts that require non-members to pay an “agency fee.” As several speakers noted, this is essentially the same argument that went on all last year over Right-to-Work-for-Less, a debate that finally ended November 30 when the Speaker of the House failed to get the two-thirds majority he needed to over-ride the governor’s veto of HB 474.
Today’s vote was 212 to 128 in favor of HB 383. While the 84 vote margin might look like a lot, it is 15 votes short of the magic two-thirds needed by anti-union legislators to over-ride another expected veto. Of course, 60 members were absent, but labor activists have a pretty good idea which side they are on, and they are feeling reasonably confident this proposal can be stopped.
But they better be prepared for an onslaught of new legislation to destroy collective bargaining, privatize services, weaken safety programs, and even take away the right to a lunch break.
The intent of some bills is obvious in their titles:
HB 1645, “prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining,”
HB 1189, establishing a committee to study the privatizing of county corrections operations,” and
HB 1206, “prohibiting the state from withholding union dues from the wages of state employees.”
For others, one needs to read the bills to understand their intent:
HB 1163, “relative to the withholding union dues from wages,” the purpose of which is to “prohibit employers from withholding union dues from employees’ wages.”
HB 1513, “changing the membership of the public employee labor relations board.” This one states that the 5-member PELRB would consist only of people who “own or shall have previously owned a business in New Hampshire, and that “no person who is currently, or was previously, employed by the federal government or a state or municipal government shall be a member of the board.”
Then there’s HB 1574, “relative to an employee’s lunch or eating period.” This bill “repeals the requirement that an employer grant an employee a ½ hour lunch or eating period after 5 consecutive hours of work.”
We will need spirit and fortitude to make it through the session. That’s why it’s a good thing that an alliance between faith leaders and the labor movement is growing stronger. In fact, there will be an Interfaith Service for Economic Justice next Thursday, January 12, at 4 PM, at St. Paul’s Church in Concord. The featured speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, former president of the United Church of Christ and now the Policy Director at the Washington office of Interfaith Worker Justice.
Public hearings have not yet been scheduled for most of these bills.