Will right to work change the way you do business?

Q. Good Inc. manufactures residential solar panels and ships them throughout the country. Its fleet workforce consists primarily of members of a nationally recognized labor union. Will the potential passage of a right-to-work law in New Hampshire change the way Good interacts with its workers?
A. The power of a labor union rests with its members. Nationally, the past several weeks brought us images of thousands of union members storming legislative buildings across the country to protest changes to labor laws. Recently, New Hampshire experienced its own clash between labor organizations and legislators trying to balance the budget when thousands of unionized public employees showed up in Concord to protest the budget bill. More protests will have occurred by the time of this publication.So what’s the fuss?One part of the budget bill gives the State of New Hampshire significantly more negotiating leverage with labor organizations. At its core, the change in law would eliminate the public employees’ contractual rights under a collective bargaining agreement “if impasse is not resolved at the time of the expiration of the parties’ agreement.” At that point, like many private sector employees, employment would continue “at-will.” Without the protection of the collective bargaining agreement, the state could determine “salaries, benefits and terms and condition of employment” at its unilateral discretion.For unionized public employees, losing the status quo option during negotiations would be a devastating blow and explains the expressed opposition at the State House. This amendment to the budget bill will probably be rejected by the Senate.The recent focus on unionized public employees will surely increase attention on a different bill – House Bill 474, the Right to Work Act – that was passed in February by the House.If passed, New Hampshire would join 23 other states with similar laws, but would be the only state in the northeast with such a law.To accomplish the goals of its stated purpose, the Right to Work Act guarantees “freedom of choice” and declares that “no person shall be required, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment … to resign or refrain from voluntary membership, affiliation or financial support of a labor organization; to become or remain a member of a labor organization” and “to pay any dues, fees, assessments or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization.”The act guarantees this “freedom of choice” of employment by prohibiting coercion and intimidation by union members against non-union members, creating criminal and civil enforcement measures, and by allowing the Attorney General’s Office to investigate violations.It also prohibits employers from deducting union dues from an employee’s paycheck unless the employee gives written authorization for such a deduction. The law makes it illegal for a union to strike, picket, boycott or take any other action “for the sole purpose of inducing or attempting to induce an employer to enter into any agreement prohibited under this chapter.” Employers also will be required to “post and keep continuously displayed” and provide to every new employee hired an Employees Freedom of Choice Notice outlining the guaranteed protections of the law.What happens to the Right to Work Act from here will become primary agenda material for the political parties. Even though the bill should pass the Republican-controlled Senate, Gov. John Lynch has already said he will veto the bill. Republicans theoretically have the numbers to override the veto with control of the House by a wide margin (297-102), but a small swing would cause an override vote to fail.This is a bill to watch. While experts disagree over the benefits of a right-to-work law, it seems that, if passed, the Right to Work Act could decrease labor union member enrollment. Since the power of a labor union rests with its members, this bill has the power to forever change the labor landscape in this state.

Neil B. Nicholson, an attorney at the law firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, can be reached at 603-628-1483 or neil.nicholson@mclane.com.