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Which New England state will be first to enact Right to Work?

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New Hampshire has a lot going for it compared to the rest of New England. The Granite State enforces no income or sales tax, which makes it a much friendlier destination for business than Maine, Vermont and other regional neighbors.

As recently noted by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu via Twitter following an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box, “It is no surprise that people are fleeing high-tax states across the country and coming to the Live Free or Die State. We have no income tax, we have no sales tax, we have a high quality of life. This is what we call the New Hampshire Advantage.”

New Hampshire may be adding onto its advantage over the region with the recent passage of SB 61 in the state Senate. Last week, the upper chamber approved a bill enacting right to work provisions by a 13-11 vote. The measure would give private-sector employees in New Hampshire the right to choose whether to join and pay dues to a labor union. Public employees in New Hampshire and the rest of the country already enjoy this First Amendment protection by way of the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME in 2018. The bill now moves to the House for further consideration.

“Becoming a right-to-work state will make New Hampshire a more attractive destination for businesses looking to relocate,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro. “I believe right-to-work, along with lower business taxes and workers compensation costs, will make New Hampshire more competitive and attractive to grow and locate a business.”

Greg Moore, the state-level director of Americans for Prosperity in New Hampshire, agrees.

“No one should have to fork over a portion of their paycheck and join a union as a condition of employment. Not only does this bill give Granite Staters more power over their paychecks, but it also strengthens our New Hampshire Advantage. As the only Right to Work state in the Northeast, our state would enable more businesses to expand or set up shop here.”

Maine could undermine any potential advantage to the Granite State by advancing similar legislation this session. Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham of Winter Harbor is sponsoring LD 97, “An Act To Ensure the Right to Work without Payment of Dues or Fees to a Labor Union.” The bill is scheduled for a virtual public hearing Wednesday at 10 a.m. before the Labor and Housing Committee.

According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, 27 states have right to work protections in place. Right to work laws prohibit requirements that employees join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. They empower workers to decide for themselves whether joining a union is a good investment. Under right to work laws, employees are still free to join a union if they choose, but workers can’t be fired for failing to do so.

Though the majority of southern and midwestern states have embraced the policy, not a single northeastern state has followed suit. In Maine, where union membership is about 15 percent, up from 13.4 percent in 2000, repeated efforts to pass right to work have been defeated by vociferous union leaders.

There is little doubt that forced unionization in the absence of a right to work law has a detrimental impact on Maine’s economy. A 2014 report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute found that “the compelling preponderance of evidence suggests there is a substantial, significant, and positive relationship between economic growth in a state and the presence of a right-to-work law.” A study published in 2013 by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that from 1947 through 2011, right to work laws increased average real personal income growth, average annual population growth, and average annual employment growth in right-to-work states.

Maine could become the first state in New England to enact right to work legislation, giving us an important competitive edge over our regional neighbors in business climate and job growth. But if New Hampshire beats us to the punch, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

If workers are actually benefitting from the unions that represent them, unions should not be worried about the potential for declines in membership as a result of enacting right to work legislation.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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