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NH Senate sidelines bargaining-fees bill

By Norma Love
Associated Press / April 11, 2012
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CONCORD, N.H.—Four months after the same bill died on the House floor, New Hampshire's Senate voted Wednesday to effectively kill a bill that would limit unions' ability to collect fees from nonunion workers.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted without debate to table a bill passed by the House similar to one Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoed last year. The House, also controlled by Republicans, failed to override the veto in November, but brought the issue back this year.

Senate President Peter Bragdon said the intent is to leave the bill on the table, which means it will die at the end of the session. Bragdon said the votes are not there to override an expected veto and the Senate decided to put its efforts into bills that would help create jobs.

"It represents the reality this bill is not going to pass when all is said and done," said Bragdon, R-Milford.

The Senate Commerce Committee had recommended amending the House bill to strip out a provision that would allow nonunion public employees to negotiate their own contracts, something that would repeal public unions' exclusive bargaining powers. That would have left the same so-called right-to-work bill vetoed last year which barred unions from collecting a share of costs from non-members.

Currently, unions and businesses must negotiate whether to require the fees as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

New Hampshire labor leaders applauded the Senate action.

"Today we saw our senators demonstrate leadership by putting aside (Republican House) Speaker (William) O'Brien's never ending war against working families," said Diana Lacey, president of the union representing most of New Hampshire's state employees.

The bill is one of O'Brien's top priorities. After Lynch's veto last year, O'Brien tried to time his call for a vote to when he had the best chance of winning. It takes two-thirds of the lawmakers present to override a veto. O'Brien first called for a vote soon after the veto, then backed off when it was clear he did not have the votes. His refusal to call a vote despite requests from opponents forced union groups to return session after session to shore up support for killing the bill.

O'Brien finally called for a vote on Nov. 30 and lost. New bills were filed this year, but also passed by less than the two-thirds needed to ensure the House could override a certain veto. An analysis of the vote showed some Republicans switched from supporters to opponents -- making its eventual defeat more likely.

State Sen. Jim Forysthe, the lone Senate sponsor on this year's bill, made the motion Wednesday to table the bill. In a statement afterward, he said his commitment to the bill remains the same, but it was important to focus on bills that can be passed into law.

Supporters argue that prohibiting employers and unions from requiring nonunion members to pay fees would help bring new companies to New Hampshire and would protect nonunion workers' rights.

But opponents call it an attack on unions.

Both sides estimate that only about 9 percent of New Hampshire workers belong to unions.

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