The Electrical Worker online
May 2013

Who We Are
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
New Hampshire Member Keeps it Positive
in Election Win

Residents of Manchester, N.H., woke up the morning of March 19 to a steady snowfall. Before the day was over, a foot of the white stuff was on the ground — enough to give the kids the day off from school. But that didn't stop Local 2320 President Bill O'Neil from hitting the road before dawn. He had an election to win.

The 26-year telecommunications worker was running in a special election to fill a vacancy in the state House, which opened up after the incumbent resigned. Despite the weather, O'Neil's supporters were out in full force at polling places throughout northeast Manchester: firefighters, police officers, teachers, Teamsters and electricians.

"Working people and union members were my base," he says. "That is why I ran, to support working families."

O'Neil went on to win, beating his opponent 297 to 260. His victory helped maintain the pro-worker majority in Concord that has kept right-to-work and other anti-labor bills on the back burner.

"His swearing in … is a reminder that Manchester's voters soundly rejected the Republican agenda of attacking unions, women, students and seniors," said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley.

It was O'Neil's first run for public office, but it is not his first foray into politics.

"I have always been involved in politics through the local," he says. The Fairpoint technician served as both registrar and political coordinator for Local 2320 for many years. "We always have been involved in the legislative process."

Political action isn't something organized labor in New Hampshire can afford to ignore. The 2010 tea party-inspired wave election that brought anti-worker governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Florida's Rick Scott to office also brought a super-majority of ultra-right-wing state legislators to power in the Granite State.

Their top priority: right-to-work-for-less.

"They tried to pass it at least six or seven times," he says. Only the veto of former Gov. John Lynch kept it from passing into law.

In 2012, Democrats took back the House, ending the speakership of Rep. Bill O'Brien, one of the state's biggest right-to-work boosters.

"Right now we're trying to undo a lot of damage he created in the last two years," O'Neil said.

Union Proud

When O'Neil first decided to run, some seasoned political consultants told him to downplay his union membership, saying it could alienate potential supporters. But O'Neil said he wasn't going to walk away from who he is.

"I'm proud to be union," he says. "I'm not going to hide it."

His candidacy received solid support from the state's labor movement — from the service employees to the building trades — which was vital in organizing door-to-door outreach and phone banks.

At the same time, he needed to promote a message that appealed to all New Hampshire voters, union and nonunion alike.

"I want to fix our schools and roads and work to bring good jobs home," he says.

Most of all, O'Neil says he focused on staying positive.

"I'm proud that all my mailers were about the issues, not personalities," he says. "I didn't go for attack ads."

But that didn't stop his opposition from going negative. Out-of-state anti-labor lobbying groups spent thousands of dollars sending out glossy two-sided flyers attacking O'Neil.

One mail piece, which went to 8,000 homes, told voters that the IBEW was responsible for raising utility rates and that they should contact O'Neil personally to complain about his union connections.

In this case, however, it backfired.

"There were a lot of independents and Republicans in the district who got the mailer and told me it made them so angry that they were voting for me," he says.

Special elections traditionally have low turnout — especially when voting day hits at the same time as a snowstorm. The previous special election brought out only 300 voters, but the New Hampshire AFL-CIO's aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts nearly doubled turnout, putting O'Neil over the top.

Pro-Jobs Agenda

O'Neil is critical of the austerity approach to governing exhibited by many tea party freshmen who dominated the last legislative session.

"It's easy to cut, cut, cut and then tell voters you didn't raise their taxes," he says. "But then schools are falling apart, the roads are crumbling. In some classrooms, class sizes have gone from 20 to 40 — that's a big problem."

O'Neil says the best way to boost state revenue is to help attract good jobs by investing in education and infrastructure.

He says that he encourages other IBEW members to follow in his footsteps.

"We have an advantage when running," he says. "We know the issues facing working people and we have a grassroots network of supporters to turn to."


Manchester, N.H., Local 2320 President Bill O'Neil relied on a grassroots network of pro-worker activists to win a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.