Right-to-Work Backers Plan Push for Laws in Three States

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By Rhonda Smith

Nov. 17 — Lawmakers in three states plan to introduce right-to-work bills in 2017 based on recent Republican election victories in Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire, a proponent of such laws said.

Economic development opportunities would expand significantly in those states if the bills become law, business leaders said.

“There are companies that will not even consider locating in a non-right-to-work state, especially companies in other countries,” Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 17.

“They often rely on search consultants, and some search consultants start their narrowing process by only including right-to-work states,” he said. They consider such laws a litmus test on the level of support companies can expect, Adkisson said.

Kentucky had 187,100 union members, 63 percent of whom were private-sector workers, in 2015, according to Bloomberg BNA’s 2016 Union Membership and Earnings Data Book.

Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire stand a good chance of joining 26 other states that have enacted right-to-work laws, Jonathan Williams, vice president of the Center for State Fiscal Reform at the American Legislative Exchange Council, told Bloomberg BNA the morning after Election Day.

Draft of Bill Ready in New Hampshire

“It’s almost certain there will be some kind of legislation brought forth with right-to-work in the next session,” Jacquelyn Benson, content editor for the nonpartisan Citizens Count, New Hampshire Live Free or Die Alliance, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 15.

New Hampshire is the nation’s 26th most-unionized state, according to Bloomberg BNA’s labor data. Union members made up 9.7 percent of New Hampshire’s workforce in 2015, down from 10.4 percent in 2005.

New Hampshire Rep. John Martin (R) already has filed a legislative proposal titled “Relative to Employee Payments to Unions,” Benson said. The full text of the measure hasn’t been released.

Bluegrass State Has Seen Union Growth

Unlike most other states, Kentucky has seen its unionized workforce grow in recent years, Bloomberg BNA labor data show. It is one of only 14 states to report an increase in union membership rates over the past 10 years, and it is one of only nine states to report an increase among its manufacturing workforce.

The 550-member Kentucky Association for Economic Development says lack of a right-to-work law puts the commonwealth at a competitive disadvantage.

“We are being told from our consultants that not having a right-to-work law is hampering some of our projects,” from being established in the Bluegrass State, Hal B. Goode, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky Association for Economic Development, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 17.

Republicans now hold a majority of legislative seats in both chambers of the Kentucky legislature. Gov. Matt Bevin (R) was elected in 2015 to a four-year term.

Senate President Robert Stivers (R), who in 2017 will again be the key sponsor of Kentucky’s right-to-work legislation, was unavailable to comment.

Kentucky is the nation’s 21st most-unionized state. Union members made up 11 percent of Kentucky’s workforce in 2015, up from 9.7 percent in 2005, Bloomberg BNA data show.

New Hampshire Now Has Republican Governor

New Hampshire’s majority-GOP legislature convenes in January, and this time a Republican governor will be sworn in, Williams at ALEC noted.

ALEC, a proponent of right-to-work laws, is described on its website as a nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators “dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.”

Former business leader Chris Sununu (R) was elected governor of New Hampshire Nov. 8 and will replace Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Of the 25 states with the lowest union membership rates, all but five (New Hampshire, Delaware, Missouri, Colorado and New Mexico) are right-to-work states, according to Bloomberg BNA labor data.

In 2015, New Hampshire had 62,300 union members, 33 percent of whom were private-sector workers.

Missouri Lawmakers Expect Different Outcome in '17

In Missouri, political newcomer Eric Greitens (R) will be sworn in as the state’s governor in January. The Show Me State’s GOP-dominated legislature passed a right-to-work bill during the 2015 session, but supporters didn’t have the votes to override the veto of then-Gov. Jay Nixon (D).

Right-to-work proponents in Missouri, and national organizations that support them, expect a different outcome in 2017.

Missouri is the nation’s 29th most unionized state, Bloomberg BNA labor data show. Missouri had 230,500 union members in 2015, 64 percent of whom were private-sector workers. Union members made up 8.8 percent of Missouri’s workforce in 2015, down from 11.5 percent in 2005, the data show.

Of the 22 states with a lower union membership rate than Missouri’s, all but two—Colorado and New Mexico—are right-to-work states.

In addition, although Missouri and Kentucky are in the middle of the pack in union density, their factories are much more strongly organized than those in most other states. They rank sixth and ninth, respectively, in union membership of private-sector manufacturing workers.

Economic Policy Institute: Unions Are Weak Now

An opponent of right-to-work laws said there seems to be little labor unions can do at this time to block the push for these bills in state legislatures.

“The long and short of this is unions are weak right now, and they’re politically weak,” Ross Eisenbrey, vice president at the Economic Policy Institute, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 9.

They aren’t able to counter this trend, he said, “when the politicians become sufficiently Republican, and Republicans have it on their to-do list.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rhonda Smith in Washington at rsmith@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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