January 27, 2017
Yesterday was a warm, almost Spring-like day, always welcome in January. The gold of the State House dome shone brightly in the sunshine, and I even took the time to sit for a short while on a bench on the State House grounds. Inside, however, the legislative session is just beginning to warm up, with a short session of the House to deal with a few legislative items, following an intensive week of public hearings on proposed bills, as committees work hard to push legislation to the floor for debates and votes.
The most important news of the week was the scheduling of hearings on so-called ‘right to work’ legislation by the House Labor Committee. The hearings on both the Senate (SB 11) and House (HB 520) versions of ‘right to work’ (virtually identical and almost entirely plagiarized from sample legislation created by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC), will be held in Reps Hall on Wednesday, February 8, beginning at 10 am. The hearings are expected to draw hundreds to the Hall, and it is likely the testimony will last for hours. More information on attending and testifying will be forthcoming, but if you can, start planning to join the fun! Battle-lines are being drawn now on this issue, between those who advocate for the working people of New Hampshire and their workplace voice versus those who seek to eradicate any vestiges of worker rights. Our focus will turn to reaching out to the members of the NH House and asking them to oppose so-called Right to Work in any and all forms. Please be sure to visit the AFT-NH website at www.aft-nh.org and utilize the resources on the Defeat Right to Work page.
Interestingly, the House Labor Committee also conducted hearings this week on proposed legislation HB 115 to increase the minimum wage in NH, from its current $7.25/hour up to an eventual $12.00/hour. Any increase would be welcome and long overdue, but those who clamor for so-called ‘right to work’ are also those who oppose any increase in the minimum wage, preferring to redesign the New Hampshire Advantage as one built on low wages and severe limitations on working people’s voice and rights.
In the background, there is also the dangerous proposed bill (HB 438) to ban payroll deduction of union dues by public employers, a strategy employed in Wisconsin to eviscerate public sector unions by making it very difficult for them to collect any member dues. This is actually the most severe threat facing organized labor and all working people in NH. Once unions are gone, can we expect employers to suddenly shower us with generous raises, expanded benefits, and kindly treatment? Remember, when employers exercise unilateral control over the workplace, it is not a recipe for happiness and harmony. Power seeks more power is the old axiom, and absolute power seeks more power absolutely.
Amongst the hundreds of bills now before the various committees of the House and Senate, a few stand out. There are over a half-dozen bills aiming to further reduce pensions or even nearly destroy the NHRS system, breaking every promise made to state, county, municipal, educational, and public safety employees. In a bright note, a bill to require the State to pay 15% of the annual cost of the NHRS survived its first committee test, but faces rough waters in the House. The State used to pay 35% of the costs of the NHRS, but now contributes nothing, a classic example of “downshifting” costs onto local taxpayers, so this bill would at least begin to right that wrong. AFT-NH remains an active partner and participant in the NH Retirement Security Coalition. It will take the combined effort of employee groups, stakeholders and members to protect the NH Retirement System as we know it.
There are also a number of bills to increase funding for charter schools, free them from property taxes, and further siphon off monies for public schools. Once again, there is a bright spot—the proposal to fund full-day kindergarten. The bill has had its public hearing in front of the House Education Committee, which is expected to act on it on February 8. Governor Chris Sununu loudly proclaimed his support for full-day kindergarten during his gubernatorial campaign, so it will be interesting to see if his support translates into Republican votes for it in the House.
In closing, I have two requests of you. First, I hope some of you can attend the January 31 public hearing on the nomination of businessman Frank Edelblut as Commissioner of Education. AFT-NH has already posted a “lesson plan” on Mr. Edelblut, and your testimony, whether in person or in writing, may help sway the Executive Council, which must approve his nomination. You can email the Executive Council members directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Second, please “Wear Red for Public Ed” on January 31. Let’s show our pride in public education! Dress in red, have your colleagues dress in red, take photos and send them to us for posting on-line. Be proud and say it loud, to paraphrase James Brown, and let’s celebrate one of America’s greatest accomplishments and contributions to the world—the idea of free, broad-based public education.
Your outreach to the legislators does make a difference and we are hearing back that you are contacting them. It matters. Please keep contacting them! We know when we act in unity, we can make a real difference.