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Business Perspective: The final sprint: Right to Work in N.H.

Business Perspective: The final sprint: Right to Work in N.H.

At the end of a marathon there’s always the final sprint where runners tap energy reserves to power through the finish line. We’re at that point with “Right to Work” (RTW) in New Hampshire.

RTW means individuals cannot be compelled to join a union or otherwise pay to support it as a condition of employment. Senate Bill 61 (SB61), which would make New Hampshire the only RTW state in the northeastern United States, is poised for a final vote in the N.H. House. The legislation already passed the N.H. Senate and received an “Ought to Pass with Amendment” recommendation from the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee. The vote by the full House is expected soon and represents the “final sprint.”

There are 27 RTW states, primarily in the South and Midwest. Eleven states’ RTW laws date to the 1940s; five more joined in the last nine years with Kentucky becoming the 27th in 2017. Incomes grow faster in RTW states than non-RTW states like New Hampshire. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows from 2000 to 2019 personal incomes grew 56.4% in RTW states compared to 40.6% in non-RTW states. (New Hampshire’s grew just 32.6% during the same period.)

Passing SB61 represents an incredible economic opportunity for New Hampshire. Becoming the only RTW state in the Northeast will mean great-paying jobs for Granite State residents. Many companies seek RTW when deciding where to locate their businesses, and it’s important to put New Hampshire at the top of their list.

My company, DECCO, provides specialized construction, maintenance and fabrication services to leading biopharmaceutical, technology and industrial clients throughout New England. We’ve seen the devastating economic effect of heavily regulated states as manufacturers often decide to leave and find RTW states to operate in. Unemployment soars and those affected most are hard-working employees left behind.

At DECCO we recognize our employees are our lifeblood and we work hard to create an environment for their success. We are led by four core values: Partnership (we trust and respect each other); Commitment (we honor our commitments); Excellence (we take pride in our work); and Ethics (honesty and integrity are our bedrock principles). These core values are obvious throughout the organization with benefits like unlimited paid time off for all employees and paid training. DECCO operates our own federally approved apprentice program and a pre-apprentice “boot camp” in order to recruit people into our trade. We recently relocated our Craft Training Center from Massachusetts to Brookline, N.H., in hopes of tapping into the N.H. workforce left reeling from the impact of COVID. We’re proud of the fact we recently completed two “Operation Warp Speed” projects to bring the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to market. Neither would have been possible without our highly trained, merit-shop (non-union) workforce.

Organized labor (union) treats everyone equally, essentially establishing the bar at the lowest common denominator. That’s the antithesis of what we strive for as an employer, where everyone is rewarded on the skills they bring and the work they perform. In a non-RTW state, everyone in a union shop must support the union as a dues-paying member or by paying “agency” fees to it. As a result, the union doesn’t reward hard work and performance individually, treating everyone the same regardless of their individual merits.

In contrast, groups like the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire and Associated Builders & Contractors must earn DECCO’s support by showing us value. Despite the good work both enterprises do to make the state as hospitable as possible for employers like mine, we can’t be forced to join or support either organization. We choose to.

Interestingly, public employees at all levels of government across the country are no longer forced to support a union in the workplace if they don’t see its value. This is a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME in which the court decided that requiring employees to pay fees violates their First Amendment rights. Therefore, public sector unions are now required to prove their value to public employees to earn their support. Why should it be different in the private sector?

Passing RTW in New Hampshire need not impede union organization. DECCO is absolutely not anti-union. We believe the merit shop movement benefits the individual, construction industry and nation. We will defend the free enterprise system where everyone has a shared concern for the general welfare of the employee and organization. The partners that choose a merit-shop career at DECCO seek the opportunity to provide for their families in a safe working environment that rewards exceptional work.

RTW legislation will force organized labor to prove its value to every employee. Each employee will have the freedom to decide for themselves whether to financially support a union without putting their job at risk. American Federation of Labor founder Samuel Gompers said, “No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion.” I couldn’t agree more.

Kyle W. Reagan is chairman and chief executive officer of DECCO Inc., and an active member of the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire.


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