CONCORD, N.H. — The House of Representatives defeated a proposed "Right-to-Work" bill, Senate Bill 11, during Thursday's session by a margin of 200 to 177.
Legislators then voted to limit reconsideration for the bill and to postpone discussion of Right-to-Work for two years, the biggest defeat of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's tenure so far.
Sununu announced his support for a Right-to-Work bill, which would have prohibited unions from requiring nonmembers at the same shop to pay dues, during his inaugural address last month.
“I am deeply disappointed today by the House’s failure to pass Right-to-Work," Sununu said in a statement. "This legislation would have provided our state an economic advantage across the region by affording our workers greater choice, freedom and flexibility — true New Hampshire values."
The bill's fate had been on shaky ground going into Thursday's session, with Republican leadership in the House trying to whip votes together in favor of Right-to-Work up to the very last minute.
Democrats would pick up 32 Republican votes to defeat the bill when all was said and done.
"The majority of the legislature made a bipartisan vote for our employees and recognized that the bill was not really 'Right-to-Work,' but was anti-union," said Rep. Joe Guthrie, R-Hampstead, who voted against the bill.
According to Rep. Peter Torosian, R-Atkinson, explained that his fellow Republicans may have been feeling the heat from constituents.
"It was defeated because Republicans joined the Democrats on it — I think in bigger numbers than I expected," Torosian said. "I think there are certain towns where people, I think, were maybe getting heat from constituents to support the union on it."
"I know this was a very important issue for the governor," he continued. "This was a piece that was important to him, and certainly I feel that the Republican Party, we let the Governor down."
Torosian, a retired airline pilot who at one point served as president of an in-house union while in that career, added that the Republican caucus missed a few of its members through illness.
In addition, he suggested that some of his colleagues may have been influenced by their experience in jobs affected by the measure.
"I will tell you from my point of view, there was arguments from some Republicans who are firefighters — certainly it was in their best financial interest," Torosian said. "I guess if you're a state rep. and you're voting on things that help your financial interest, you can argue that that's a direct gain to you."
Overall, Torosian said, unions would not have been seriously impacted by the bill's passage, claiming that other states had passed Right-to-Work and seen strong growth.
"The reality is that unions were not going any place," he said. "If Right-to-Work passed, unions were not going to disappear."
New Hampshire union organizations including the Teamsters, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire (AFT-NH) and the National Education Association-New Hampshire (NEA-NH) all opposed the bill.
“New Hampshire sent a very strong message today: Right-to-Work initiatives drive wages down and make it difficult for companies to attract employees," Sean M. O'Brien, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Joint Council 10, said.
"We’re very gratified that the House saw this bill for what it is: an attack on working people and a drag on the economy," he said.
AFT-NH, which employs more than 4,000 teachers, police and other professionals in the state, was also pleased to see the bill defeated.
"The defeat of this bill was the result of cooperation across party lines and hard work by our members, fellow union brothers and sisters in the labor movement and community allies," a statement from the union said. "We thank legislators who stood with working families.”
House Democrats released statements celebrating their victory, urging the legislature to turn to what they called more pressing issues.
"As we have seen in other states, ‘Right-to-Work’ laws result in reduced wages and make it harder for people to earn a living that supports a family," House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said in a statement.
"The legislature’s focus can now shift to the state budget and our response to the opioid crisis, where it should have been all along," he added.
For Rep. Fred Doucette, R-Salem, the bill's defeat is an opportunity to take on what he believes are the real challenges standing in the way of economic improvement in the state.
"I'm quite happy about it," Doucette said. "I think too much emphasis was put on this for the minimal impact it would have on New Hampshire's economy — there's so many other components that we need to work on, including bringing down the price of energy in the state."
"Let's look at the issues we really have in the state, instead of having a pet issue that we're trying to get passed," he added.