Unions Beat GOP Candidates as New Hampshire Blocks
November 30, 2011 - 1:41pm ET
Mitt Romney can attack public-employee unions all he
wants. Rick Perry can attack collective-bargaining rights.
Newt Gingrich can call for eliminating child labor laws so
that school janitors can be replaced with adolescents.
But those are not winning positions in mainstream America,
where polling suggests Americans recognize the value of
labor unions and of laws that maintain the right to
organize and bargain for better wages, better benefits and
better services for children and communities.
And they are not winning positions in New Hampshire, the
first-primary state where the Republicans who would be
president are waging a fierce battle to out-conservative
On Wednesday, after months of wrangling over the issue,
the New Hampshire House of Representatives killed a plan
promoted by the corporate-funded American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC) to make New Hampshire a so-called
"right-to-work" state. The law was blocked because not
just Democrats but almost two dozen Republicans rejected
the counsel of presidential candidate Perry -- who
addressed the legislature Wednesday morning -- and voted
with organized labor and community groups that rallied to
defend collective-bargaining rights.
Twenty-two American states, most of them in the Southern
states of the old Confederacy or the West, have
"right-to-work" laws on the books. These laws undermine
the ability of unions to organize all employees in a
workplace and make it dramatically harder for organized
labor to provide a voice for workers on the job or in the
political debates of the day.
New Hampshire has long been a target of the corporate
interests that have, since the 1940s, funded efforts to
pass right-to-work laws in Northern states. And after the
Republican sweep of 2010, when the GOP took charge of both
houses of the New Hampshire legislature by wide margins,
it looked as if the campaign might succeed.
"Right-to-work" legislation was passed by the state House
and the Senate. But Governor John Lynch vetoed it.
Tuesday's state House vote was on whether to override that
It failed, when 139 legislators voted to sustain Lynch's
veto--meaning that the Republican leadership of the
400-member chamber lacked the two-thirds majority needed
to go around the governor. Almost two dozen Republican
legislators joined Democrats in taking the pro-labor
The vote came despite pointed efforts by Republican
presidential contenders to secure support for the
"right-to-work" legislation. Former Massachusetts Governor
Romney and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman urged the
legislature to crack down on unions.
Perry went them one better, addressed the legislature just
hours before the override vote, saying, "If you pass into
law a right-to-work law, you may join my home state and
take over the title of the state that's creating more jobs
in America than any place in this country."
When Perry spoke, however, he encountered boos. The small
state Capitol in Concord was surrounded by pro-labor
activists wearing red shirts that called for sustaining
Voters across New Hampshire had sent a similar signal in
recent special elections for legislative seats.
After Republican House Speaker Bill O'Brien advanced the
anti-labor legislation--as part of a broad push dictated by
ALEC, the national group that seeks to impose
corporate-sponsored policies on the states--four straight
special elections were won by candidates (three Democrats
and a Republican) who opposed the "right-to-work"
"The Republican leadership in our state needs to wake up
and smell the coffee," says New Hampshire AFL-CIO
President Mark MacKenzie. "This isn't about party. Voters
will support candidates who support the middle class. They
want leaders who will strengthen their communities and
create good family wage jobs, not strip our most
vulnerable residents of vital services and pursue Tea
Party-fueled policies like right-to-work."
That's a message that Republican presidential contenders
should take in, as well.
Wednesday's New Hampshire vote was the latest in a series
of wins at the state level by unions that are pushing back
against anti-labor measures. Several weeks ago, Ohio voted
by a 61-39 margin to overturn Governor John Kasich's
legislation undermining collective-bargaining rights for
public employees and teachers. And in Wisconsin, where
voters removed two anti-labor state senators last summer,
a mass movement backed by labor, farm and community groups
has already collected more than 300,000 signatures as part
of a drive to recall that state's anti-union governor,
In each of these state-based fights, national Republicans
have arrived to attack labor and collective-bargaining
rights, only to have voters--including a lot of
Republicans--say they favor labor rights over corporate
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