New Hampshire’s nickname is the Granite State, a salute to the hard rock that is plentiful there and used in construction. Perhaps it’s only fitting its people held firm against right-to-work laws.

New Hampshire statehouse. Photo provided under a Flickr/Creative Commons agreement by Jimmy Emerson, DVM.

The state House, which is controlled by the GOP, voted 200-177 on Feb. 16 against a proposed right-to-work law after the Senate approved it last month. The vote snapped a recent run of states adopting right-to-work, which has become a priority for Republican-dominated governments as soon as they come to power.

But that’s not what happened in New Hampshire, even though Gov. Chris Sununu’s election last November gave the GOP control of the legislative and executive branches. More than two dozen Republican legislators in the House voted against the bill and many are union members themselves, Second District business representative Joe Casey said.

“They stuck with us,” he said.

“Right-to-work laws were designed to cut down on organized labor’s influence, its ability to fight for working people and to suppress wages,” Casey added. “That’s bad economic policy and it hurts working families. That’s why we’ll continue to fight it in New Hampshire.”

Right-to-work laws allow employees to opt out of paying union membership dues, even when they enjoy the benefits of a union contract. They undercut wages and benefits throughout a state, including union and nonunion workers alike. Workers earn an average of about $6,000 more per year in states without a right-to-work law than in states that have adopted it.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who pushed for a right-to-work law following his election in November. The state House voted it down. Photo provided under a Creative Commons agreement by Chris Clunie.

The New Hampshire House later voted 193-184 to ban consideration of a right-to-work law for the rest of the legislative session, which means the earliest it could be taken up again is after the 2018 elections.

Support was soft even before the vote, when the House’s Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee voted 14-7 last week to recommend against its passage. It also was evident during the floor debate.

“This bill is a direct attack on our livelihood,” Republican state representative and firefighters’ union member Sean Morrison told the Concord Monitor.

No states in New England have a right-to-work law, but advocates for it have long targeted New Hampshire because of its libertarian bent. Casey said there have been approximately 35 attempts to pass a right-work law there over the years. All have failed, including a 2012 proposal that passed both the House and Senate before being vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch.

Casey said the fact that 10 percent of New Hampshire residents commute to Massachusetts – long considered one of the most union-friendly states in the country –  undercut arguments that right-to-work has no impact on workers’ salaries, an argument that has long been pushed by right-to-work proponents.

“Maybe they realized it has something to do with wages and benefits,” he said. “That’s something the legislators didn’t want to jump into.”

Republicans in state governments across the country have made enacting right-to-work laws a top priority in recent years once they control all branches of a state government. They often use legislation written and modeled by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an alliance of conservative politicians and private businesses that has long pushed for laws that harm working families and the labor movement.

That’s what happened earlier this year in Missouri and Kentucky, where right to work-to-work laws were passed by their respective legislatures and signed by Republican governors, bringing the number of states with such laws to 28. That includes five that have added it since 2012.

With New Hampshire off the table, no other states are expected to adopt a right-to-work law before the 2018 elections, but two GOP congressmen introduced a federal right-to-work law on Feb. 1. Republican legislators also are working in several states to chip away at collective bargaining rights and abolish project labor agreements, which establish wage levels for projects using public funding before construction begins.

“This win in New Hampshire shows the importance of having friends and advocates on both sides of the political aisle,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “That’s difficult to do in an era where partisanship seems to rule, but not impossible. Let’s hope these legislators have sent a message to other states looking to further strip working families’ rights and we’ll continue to show that right-to-work is bad news for all Americans.”

Homepage photo provided by Google under usage rights agreement.