Even with limited access to New Hampshire’s State House (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 there.
Photo credit: Flickr user Warren Lemay

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 last Thursday 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 last 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 lock-step 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,” she said. “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 on the East Coast north of the Virginias. This latest attempt to turn New Hampshire into a right-to-work wedge in the northeast, 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 – Barrington Local 104, Manchester Local 2320, Dover Local 1837, Portsmouth Local 2071 and Concord Local 490 – who turned out in force, virtually, to oppose SB 61, as did members of Massachusetts locals 103 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.