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Right-to-Work Law

Stan Greer, Glenn Brackett & Citizens Count Editors.

Under right-to-work, workers can still join or form unions, but it becomes illegal for unions to require workers to join in order to continue working in a “union shop.” Right-to-work laws also ban requiring non-members to pay dues or other fees for union bargaining activities.

Right-to-work law in NH

New Hampshire does not currently have a right-to-work law.

The only state laws regarding union membership relate solely to public employees such as teachers, firemen, police officers, and other town or state workers. The New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Act explicitly gives these workers the right to unionize and bargain collectively with public employers. However, thanks to a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision, workers in unionized public agencies who do not wish to join the union cannot be compelled to pay union fees—such as fees for collective bargaining—as a condition of employment.  

Explore other issues related to public employee contracts in New Hampshire

For other workers in New Hampshire, federal law—specifically the provisions in the National Labor Relations Act—regulates labor unions.

History of right-to-work in NH

The right-to-work issue has frequently been debated in New Hampshire since the 1980s.

It passed the Legislature in 2011; it was vetoed by then Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, and his veto was upheld.

Right-to-work measures were tabled by the state Senate in 2012 and defeated in the House in 2013.

Maggie Hassan, Democratic governor 2013-2017, was also opposed to right-to-work. She vetoed a measure in 2016. The veto was challenged but upheld.

Gov. Christopher Sununu included right-to-work as part of his political agenda. But, even with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, it failed in 2017 when it was defeated in the House.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature killed right-to-work bills in 2019 and 2020.

A recent right-to-work bill, SB 61, failed to pass the Republican-controlled House in 2021.

Federal laws on union contributions

The federal Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 prohibited “closed shops.” It determined that full union membership could not be used as a condition of employment.

However, federal law leaves it up to states whether or not they wish to allow private employers to be “agency shops” or to ban them by passing a right-to-work law. In agency shops, formal union membership isn’t required of employees, but even non-members have to pay “agency fees” or “fair share fees” which are intended to cover the costs of collective bargaining and representation. Under most circumstances, these fees should be less than full union dues, and workers have a right to know the basis for how the reduced amount is calculated.  

If nonmembers explicitly object to the use of their fees for a union's political activities, they cannot be compelled to pay for expenses outside of the costs of collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment.

Workers with a bona-fide religious objection may also opt out of paying union dues or fees altogether. In this case, the amount the worker would normally pay in membership dues can instead be donated to a charity acceptable to both the worker and the union.

Learn more about issues related to employee protections

Right-to-work laws in other states

Currently, 27 states have right-to-work laws. All have a similar intent: That employees in unionized workplaces may not be compelled to join a union, nor be compelled to pay for any union activities, including bargaining activities.

No state in New England has a right-to-work law.

Stan Greer of the National Institute for Labor Relations Research

 “New Hampshire should adopt a right-to-work law.”

  • A New Hampshire right-to-work law would empower individual workers to decide for themselves whether or not they want to join or financially support a union.
  • New Hampshire has suffered a decline in its peak-earning year population (aged 35-54). The most plausible explanation for this trend is that breadwinners and entrepreneurs are fleeing New Hampshire in support of better opportunities elsewhere.
  • Once it adopts a right-to-work law, New Hampshire will be the first state in the Northeast to ban compulsory unionism, and will become a magnet for the region’s entrepreneurs, business owners, and workers seeking to improve their living standards.
  • In a November 2015 brief to the U.S. Supreme Court defending forced-unionism contracts in the government sector, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris admitted that, under laws authorizing “exclusive” union bargaining, union officials “do have substantial latitude to advance bargaining positions that . . . run counter to the economic interests of some employees.”
  • Under multiple federal and state statutes governing the workplace, unions may become, as one scholar has written, “‘exclusive’ (monopoly) bargaining agents of all workers in the unit, whether individuals agree or not. Individuals are even forbidden to represent themselves.”  When the law prohibits individual employees from representing themselves, and compels them to accept Big Labor “representation” that may well hurt them economically, to force them to bankroll the union that is being foisted on them is to pour salt in their wounds.
Glenn Brackett, President of the NH AFL-CIO

“New Hampshire should not adopt a right-to-work law.”

  • When you compare right-to-work states to free bargaining states the differences are stark: the average worker makes less per year, they have higher rates of people lacking health insurance, spend less on education systems for children, the poverty rate is higher, and the risk of workplace death is higher.
  • Hourly wages in non-right-to-work states are higher on average than in right-to-work states, even after controlling for variables such as demographics and cost of living. New Hampshire's unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country. To attract businesses, we need to attract and retain an educated, qualified workforce, and passing right-to-work in New Hampshire—a move associated with lower wages—is unlikely to encourage workers to stay or move here.
  • Right-to-work will strike a blow against the ability of workers to collectively negotiate for higher safety standards, better training, and fair wages and health benefits. This lowers standards across the board, impacting both union and non-union members alike.
  • New Hampshire struggles to keep its youth from moving out-of-state to find work because we lack attractive job opportunities. Policies that have been correlated with lower wages, higher workplace injuries, and increased poverty won’t encourage them to stay.
  • Right-to-work is an attack on working families by special interests seeking to lower wages for everyone and undermine worker protections. 


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