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August 2021

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IBEW Mobilizing Helps Kill Right-to-Work in
New Hampshire, for Now

Following months of phone calls, emails and text messages from IBEW members in New Hampshire, Democrats and Republicans in the state's House of Representatives voted June 3 to reject yet another attempt to enact a so-called "right-to-work" law.

"We appreciate the willingness of New Hampshire House members to listen to our concerns and the concerns expressed by dozens of New Hampshire businesses," said Second District International Vice President Michael P. Monahan. "We're grateful that they ultimately acted to protect the interests of thousands of working men and women in New Hampshire."

Introduced in the New Hampshire Senate on Jan. 6, SB 61 called for allowing employees covered by a collectively bargained contract to enjoy that agreement's benefits without paying their fair share to cover the costs of administering it.

"Senate Bill 61 would have undermined New Hampshire union members and private companies that utilize union workers," said Monahan, whose jurisdiction covers the Granite State as well as Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

There have been at least 30 unsuccessful right-to-work bills that have been introduced in New Hampshire over the past 40 years, Monahan said. The IBEW and its worker-friendly allies worked with state House legislators from both parties to successfully stop the previous attempt in 2017.

Knowing that a fresh battle over the law was coming again in 2021, the IBEW last fall began a full-court press to stop it, said Second District International Representative Ed Starr.

"Right after the elections last November, we started doing weekly strategy calls with all the New Hampshire locals plus the ones in Massachusetts that have members who live in New Hampshire," Starr said. "We did this every week up until the vote, and primarily because the IBEW was on the ball, things played out the way we hoped they would."

That's not to say there were no defeats along the way to the June 3 vote. With Republicans holding a slim majority in the Senate, in February that chamber narrowly passed SB 61 and then sent it to the House, where the GOP holds a bigger advantage over Democrats, who were in lockstep opposition to the anti-worker measure.

"This was not our first rodeo, and we knew [the final vote] was going to be tight," said IBEW activist Peggy McCarthy, vice president of Manchester Local 2320 and herself a former Republican representative in New Hampshire's House. "Knowing it was at least possible to win helped a lot."

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, made mobilizing much more difficult than in past right-to-work fights, McCarthy said. "We couldn't work the way we did before. Almost everything was remote. To be able to virtually come up with our strategy and make it work was impressive."

Even without a lot of in-person contact, activists still were able to rely on their ongoing positive dealings with many of the IBEW's allies from previous right-to-work battles.

"Our opposition had every reason to expect that this would be their time," McCarthy said. "But everything turns on relationships in New Hampshire."

Twenty-seven states have ratified right-to-work laws, but none of those are in the northeast. This latest attempt to turn New Hampshire into a right-to-work wedge in the New England, Monahan said, was pushed largely by out-of-state special-interest groups, such as the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, based in Washington, D.C.

"This was never a New Hampshire issue, and that was obvious at every step of the legislative process," Monahan said. "Everybody took it seriously."

Democratic legislators in the state faced a massive amount of pressure from their Republican colleagues to support it, while dozens of state-based union-friendly companies turned out to oppose the bill during hearings held by the House. Should SB 61 have reached his desk, Gov. Chris Sununu had indicated he would sign it into law. All along, though, activists kept their emphasis on workers, not politics, McCarthy said.

On June 3, there were actually two SB 61-related votes held in the House. The measure itself was defeated, 199 to 175, with 21 Republicans joining all but a single Democrat to oppose it. A second vote, on a motion to prevent right-to-work from being introduced again until at least 2023, passed with bipartisan support, 196 to 178.

Monahan thanked the members from New Hampshire's IBEW locals — Concord Local 490, Dover Local 1837, Portsmouth Local 2071 and Manchester Local 2320 — who turned out in force, virtually, to oppose SB 61, as did members of Massachusetts locals 103 and 104 in Boston and 1505 in Waltham.

"We had the AFL-CIO and the building trades council working with us on this, too," Starr said. "We made a plan together to go out and get the support we needed."

The two men also consider McCarthy something of a "most valuable player" in the SB 61 fight, especially considering how she works nights as a network operations center technician for Consolidated Communications.

"Peggy was pivotal, making calls when she could during the day," Starr said. With her experience as a former member of the New Hampshire House, "she knew something about every member of the Legislature. She deserves a bunch of credit."

"It was a great concerted effort, but nobody would deny that the IBEW was a big reason right-to-work failed in New Hampshire, again," Monahan said.


Even with limited access to New Hampshire's Statehouse (above) to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, IBEW activists joined working men and women from around the state to help defeat, again, an attempt to enact a so-called "right to work" law.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user Warren Lemay

Illinois Moves Forward With Right-to-Work Ban

Illinois voters will have the chance to more permanently ban right-to-work laws when they go to the polls next year.

"Voters in Illinois know what most working people across the country know, that right-to-work laws are wrong. They're bad for workers and bad for the economy," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who began his career and remains a member of Rock Island, Ill., Local 145. "This is a chance to enshrine the true rights of working people into the state constitution and say once and for all that every employee deserves a voice on the job and the right to bargain collectively."

The Workers' Rights Amendment would establish a new section in the Illinois Bill of Rights that would limit the power of the General Assembly, state, or any local government to pass a law that restricts or prohibits collective bargaining over wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment, including private sector workers' rights to contract for union security agreements.

The amendment passed both the state House and Senate with bipartisan support in May. Since this type of legislation doesn't require a governor's signature, the next step is for the issue to go before voters via ballot, which will happen in November 2022. It will need approval from three-fifths of all those voting on the question or a simple majority of all ballots cast in the election to be ratified, reported Capitol News Illinois.

Despite mountains of evidence demonstrating their many shortcomings, right-to-work laws have proliferated across the U.S. The laws, largely championed by anti-union businesses and their allies, allow employees to access the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without having to pay any fees for them. Consequently, union budgets are starved, weakening their bargaining power.

Currently, 27 states have these nefariously named laws on the books, including neighboring states Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. According to a new study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois fares significantly better for having avoided this pitfall.

Among the findings, when compared to right-to-work states, Illinois workers' have a 6% higher annual income, are 5% more likely to have health insurance coverage, are 3% more likely to own their homes and are 4% more likely to have a bachelor's degree or higher. Worker poverty is also lower. Illinoisans also have 32% fewer on-the-job fatalities.

"The data shows that the states that are most effective at building middle-class jobs and delivering economic growth are those that support workers' rights and collective bargaining," wrote study authors Frank Manzo and Robert Bruno. "This suggests that passing the proposed Workers' Rights Amendment would promote good jobs, safe workplaces, and a strong economy for the people of Illinois."

An earlier study from ILEPI found that there are 31% fewer registered apprentices in right-to-work states and that economic productivity is 17% lower per worker.

"Over the past year, we've come to rely on many of our hourly workers as essential frontline heroes who have more than earned the right to bargain for fair wages and safe working conditions," wrote Marc Poulos, executive director and counsel of the Indiana, Illinois and Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, a labor-management organization, in an op-ed for the Chicago Sun Times. "So-called right-to-work laws are designed to chip away at this principle. And the data shows that they not only have shortchanged workers, but they have proven to be fundamentally bad economic policy."

Earlier this year, both New Hampshire and Montana legislators voted against right-to-work in their respective states. And the Missouri General Assembly is once again considering its own right-to-work law, despite Show Me State voters overwhelmingly rejecting such a measure in 2018.

At the federal level, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act would do away with right-to-work laws altogether and enact numerous other worker protections. The PRO Act passed the House earlier this year, and has the support of President Joe Biden, but has stalled in the Senate.


Illinois legislators voted to enshrine collective bargaining rights into the state's constitution, sending the issue to voters via ballot initiative for the 2022 elections.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user Shaun Greiner

Biden Budget Proposal Extends
Lifeline to Existing Nuclear

The Biden Administration announced a proposal to extend up to $1 billion in tax credits to existing nuclear plants, advancing a priority the IBEW has long fought for as a win both for good jobs and a cleaner environment.

The Production Tax Credit expansion is part of the administration's multitrillion-dollar plan to rebuild American manufacturing, infrastructure and energy sectors to face the challenge of a rising China.

PTCs have supported the construction of carbon-free wind, solar, storage and nuclear generation for years, but they have never been extended to existing nuclear plants.

"This just gives nuclear parity with other clean energy producers," said Assistant to the President for Government Affairs Austin Keyser. "It also sends a very important message that nuclear is indispensable in the fight against climate change."

Over the last decade, about 10 nuclear reactors have shut down, often because competitive energy markets favor intermittent producers like wind and solar and carbon-emitting gas peaker plants.

The federal government "has not historically subsidized plants, but this is a moment to consider [it] to make sure we keep the current fleet active," said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee in June. "We are not going to be able to achieve our climate goals if nuclear power plants shut down. We have to find ways to keep them operating."

The PTCs will direct aid to nuclear plants in competitive marketplaces with pricing structures that do not fully compensate nuclear producers for the full value they provide to the grid. Many competitive marketplaces like the PJM Interconnection, which covers all or part of 13 states, including New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois, only pay per megawatt produced and ignore the reliability nuclear plants provide. The marketplace also ignores so-called grid services like in-rush power to fire up air conditioners and voltage smoothing that protects sensitive electronics.

Plants would be eligible for the credits if they demonstrate a good operation and safety record, that the facility is facing financial operating losses and that future projections include continued losses and that emissions of various air pollutants would increase if the facility closed.

The proposal also includes a requirement that the credits would be paired with "strong labor standards, benefiting employers that provide good-paying and good-quality jobs."

A great deal of energy and federal money has gone to support the construction of new nuclear power plants. Some of that support was funneled through the so-called 45J program which offered eight years of subsidies to new nuclear power plants.

The Biden administration also requested a 57% increase in funding for the Office of Nuclear Energy to nearly $2 billion, much of which will go to support research and roll-out of the advanced nuclear plants.

And the results have been encouraging for nuclear energy supporters. More than 20 U.S. companies are currently developing advanced reactors that have the potential to offer greater flexibility in power, size and operation. In May, for example, Terrapower announced the construction of a Natrium-powered nuclear facility on the site of a shuttered Wyoming coal powerhouse.

Over the years, though, much less attention has been paid to maintaining the existing fleet of 94 nuclear power reactors, even though they will be "absolutely essential" if the country is to meet Biden's commitment to reduce carbon emissions 50% economy-wide by 2030, said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

"It's simple: 20% of total U.S. energy production and 56% of carbon-free energy production comes from these reactors. We used to have more than 100 of them. Letting any more close would be a disaster for the people who work in those plants and a tragedy for our country and our clean energy targets," he said.

The aid comes too late for the Indian Point nuclear plant outside New York City. The last of three reactors at that site shut down in April.

But it might be enough to convince Exelon to change its plans to close four reactors at two additional plants by November.

Like most of the nuclear reactors that have been shuttered, Exelon's plants in Illinois are perfectly safe, produce power reliably and cheaply, and will for decades to come.

But wind and solar are extremely cheap — in part because of tax incentives — at the times of day when they produce the most energy. Nuclear operates around-the-clock at a near-fixed cost. That means nuclear power, critically, is available when wind and solar aren't, but those plants have to sell power at a loss during the times when wind and solar are abundant. Without a pricing structure that accounts for nuclear's stabilizing influence and consistent availability, the economics make little sense.

The production tax credits are not the only Biden administration proposal to redesign the energy marketplace to pay nuclear generation for all the services it provides.

Biden also supported a Clean Energy Standard in the infrastructure plan that would require utilities to prioritize purchasing carbon-free power. The goal is to have markets reward the outcomes our economy needs, in this case energy production that doesn't disrupt the atmosphere.

There is little support, Keyser said, for a national energy policy that would rationalize pricing and include payments for grid services nationwide. The regional and state energy regulatory system is too entrenched, and opposition would be enormous.

As it stands, the only opposition to extending the PTC to existing nuclear powerhouses comes from some, but not all, environmentalists and competing producers. He said the coalition of labor, utilities, and the rest of the environmental movement make him optimistic the proposal will pass.

In her testimony, Secretary Granholm stated the challenge bluntly, Keyser said.

"She said we have to add hundreds and hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy to the grid. She's right," Keyser said. "It's an easy win and a hell of a lot cheaper to keep what we already have."


The Quad Cities plant was saved from closure when Illinois passed a bill similar to the Biden administration's proposal to pay nuclear producers the full value of the clean energy they produce.

Credit: Exelon

The Limits of Labor Law —
and How the PRO Act Can Fix it

America's current labor law leaves much to be desired from the worker's perspective, according to new research from the Economic Policy Institute. But there's a way to fix it — if Congress decides to act.

As just about anyone who has ever tried to organize their workplace can attest, the deck is stacked against them. It's the rare employer who voluntarily recognizes its employees' efforts to join together, meaning that workers must fight for their rights in an arena that offers few penalties for anti-union employers and considerable risk for the employees. This imbalance, says EPI, is due in large part to weaknesses in the National Labor Relations Act.

"It is a cruel irony that the two laws most important to workers being able to join together to protect their health and safety on the job — the National Labor Relations Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act — are the two labor and employment laws with the weakest anti-retaliation protections," write EPI's Lynn Rhinehart and Celine McNicholas.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the NLRA into law in 1935, he stated that, "A better relationship between labor and management is the high purpose of this Act. By assuring the employees the right of collective bargaining, it fosters the development of the employment contract on a sound and equitable basis." At a time of high economic uncertainty and labor strife, this was an attempt to establish labor peace by leveling the playing field. And it worked. With passage of the NLRA, also called the Wagner Act after the New York senator who spearheaded its passage, union membership increased as did productivity, wages and improved working conditions.

In the decades since, however, the NLRA has been repeatedly weakened, and with it union membership. Despite nearly half of all working people saying they would join a union if they could, less than 11% actually belong to one. This disconnect between what workers want and what they actually have is because of the unequal playing field created by anti-worker laws and policies that allow employers to get away with undermining their employees' right to organize.

According to EPI's analysis, fundamental flaws in the NLRA make it significantly weaker than other labor laws with regard to anti-retaliation protections. As a result, it fails to provide an effective deterrent against employer retaliation — an all-too-common occurrence in organizing campaigns.

As the authors note, employers face no monetary penalties for illegally retaliating against workers who exercise their rights, nor do workers receive compensatory damages when they're illegally fired. And those who are illegally fired don't get their jobs back while their cases are pending, meaning they can be out of work and losing pay for months or even years. If they do get reinstated, deductions are taken out of the back pay they receive. For workers who want to pursue their anti-retaliation case, their only recourse is through the National Labor Relations Board, which is often slow or fails to act at all.

By contrast, anti-retaliation whistleblower provisions in other laws, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act, provide for monetary damages to workers for the harm they experience, as well as attorneys' fees to compensate the worker's legal representation. The NLRA does not. And many other employment laws — though not the OSH Act — allow workers to pursue their case before an administrative agency or federal court if the relevant agency fails to act.

With regard to the OSH Act, the coronavirus has laid bare its deficits. As a separate EPI report noted, workers have the right to file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency born out of the Act, if they feel their working conditions are unsafe. And yet, despite receiving more than 9,000 such complaints by September 2020, OSHA closed more than 80% of them and opened just 199 investigations. And while OSHA does have whistleblower protections, they involve lengthy court proceedings and don't give workers a right to sue their employers on their own.

"Many workers still do not have a meaningful right to refuse to accept dangerous assignments or protect themselves when they accept those assignments," said report author Ann Rosenthal. "These structural imbalances are amplified by the fact that many of the most dangerous jobs in this economy are disproportionately held by some of the most vulnerable and lowest-paid workers."

The solution, says EPI, is the PRO Act. It's been called the most significant piece of labor legislation in decades with more than 30 proposed changes to existing law. Among those proposed reforms are increased protections against employer retaliation. Workers would have access to full back pay without deductions for time out of work, front pay if reinstatement is not feasible, consequential damages to compensate for harm caused by the violation, and double the amount of back pay as liquidated damages.

The PRO Act also directs the NLRB to seek preliminary reinstatement of workers when they file retaliation charges and the board finds reasonable cause to believe that a violation occurred. The board would also have to prioritize such cases. If an agency does fail to act in a timely manner, the PRO Act further establishes the right for workers to seek justice in federal court. In such circumstances, the courts would be authorized to award back pay, front pay, liquidated damages, consequential damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees to workers who prevail, similar to provisions in most other anti-retaliation and modern whistleblower statutes.

The landmark labor legislation would also streamline the election process — bringing back changes enacted by the Obama administration that were rolled back by the Trump Labor Department — ban captive audience meetings, call for mediation and arbitration if an employer doesn't commit to a first contract and do away with right-to-work laws, among numerous other improvements.

The PRO Act passed the House of Representatives in March and has the support of President Joe Biden, as well as a majority of likely voters according to a new poll, but has stalled in the Senate.

"The coronavirus may have pulled back the curtain on the precariousness of far too many working families, but these problems pre-date 2020," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "Passing the PRO Act would reinvigorate the right to bargain collectively, which has long been under attack, and restore balance and prosperity to not just the economy, but the lives of working people everywhere.

"We need you to call your senators and tell them the PRO Act is the right solution for working families."


The National Labor Relations Act is due for an upgrade and there's legislation to do that waiting for a vote in the Senate. Among the changes would be an end to right-to-work laws, which Missouri voters resoundingly rejected by ballot in 2018.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user AFL-CIO