The a la carte Mentality and SB 11/HB 520 (so-called “Right to Work”)
New Hampshire has long championed individual autonomy against concentrated economic and political power, and this value is enshrined in our cherished form of small-town, direct citizen participation government. Our resistance to concentrated power has at times manifested in collective action -- for example, the uprising against Aristotle Onassis' 1974 plan to build an oil refinery on Great Bay and the more recent challenges to the Northern Pass electric transmission line. However, a regrettable companion to individual autonomy is what I call the “a la carte mentality:” to expect to pay only for those government and private sector services we personally need at the present time without regard to our possible different future needs.
The latest reincarnation of so-called “right to work” legislation, SB 11 and HB 520, exemplifies the a la carte mentality. Far from preserving individual freedom as its proponents have trumpeted, this legislation erodes the ability of individuals to band together in collective action and resist concentrated economic and government power. Representing less than 10% of New Hampshire workers, labor unions in our state can themselves hardly be considered concentrated economic powers. On the contrary, they protect employees with long-term, vested interest in the success of their employers from being treated as “at will” employees subject to intimidation and coercion.
Dan Innis, my colleague on the UNH faculty and state senator who voted in favor of SB 11, understands “at will” employees from his several hospitality business ventures – an industry known, in fact, for its high employee turnover. Conversely, many New Hampshire businesses enjoy success because of their workers’ talent and hard work (including my former UNH engineering students), and these people want their committed investment in their employers to be respected and rewarded. Collective representation in the form of employee unions is one way to ensure that the symbiotic relationship of highly skilled employee and successful employer remains healthy.
The a la carte mentality, which SB 11/HB 520 would affirm in law, creates an “Every man and woman for themself and the Devil take the hindmost” flight from collective responsibility for the health and well-being of the communities in which we work and raise our families. The great majority of us have accepted as the price of a civil, democratic society the payment for some services from which we don't immediately and personally benefit. If carried to its logical extension, the advocates of the a la carte mentality should, for example, rally behind those critics of the federal government who withhold a portion of their income taxes that would be used to support overseas military adventures, yet I suspect they would not be so inclined.
We each pay some portion of the costs of services that we don't personally receive in the moment because we value the concept of the greater civic good, and we recognize that one day we may ultimately need those services ourselves. In this respect, fair share fees (or agency fees) paid by non-members of unions are like the premiums for an insurance policy: we hope we will never need to take advantage of the policy, but we’re glad to have its protection as backup. I may grumble at my share of those costs, but I value democratic institutions at all levels and accept those costs as the price of maintaining the protection of true individual autonomy against the forces that would diminish it.
My challenge to the state representatives of the New Hampshire House is this: if you believe that greater concentration of economic power, unopposed by those subjected to it, upholds New Hampshire values, then vote for HB 520. However, if you and your constituents recognize that no individual can alone withstand concentrated economic and government power, and that an a la carte mentality only furthers those outside forces whose values are not consistent with New Hampshire's, then vote against HB 520 to reject those outside forces.
Michael Carter teaches in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at UNH and is a licensed Professional Engineer in New Hampshire. He also serves as president of the UNH chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The opinions expressed here are those of the author. No official support or endorsement by the University System of New Hampshire or the University of New Hampshire is intended or should be inferred.
Don't make NH a Right-to-Work state
I am a college professor, and I have been a proud union member most of my adult life. As a young person, I put myself through school working as a secretary. For much of my student years, I was lucky to find great office jobs at local colleges. I was even luckier that my secretarial posts were union jobs –I was a member of local 2110 of the United Auto Workers, one of our country’s most effective labor unions. Union membership really paid off in a dollars and sense way. Working as a part time secretary and a full-time student, I earned a living wage and had full health coverage. I even earned retirement contributions, based on my modest salary.
The availability of decent working conditions, fair wages, and health benefits had an additional, intangible but equally important, impact on my life: it allowed me to stay in school and pursue a higher degree. Eventually I received my doctorate at a top program, and, in 1999, I moved to New Hampshire to teach History at UNH. I consider it a privilege to live and work in this wonderful state, and to raise my children here. I also like to think that I contribute, on a daily basis, to my adopted state; I spend my days teaching our future citizens, expanding their horizons and opportunities, and building community in the wider Seacoast region. In addition, in my current position at UNH I am represented by our local chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which has vigorously defended our rights.
For these reasons and more, I am opposed to the so-called “Right to work” legislation currently under debate in the NH State House. “Right to work” is nothing less than an attempt to weaken unions, and workers’, rights. In fact, the name is dangerously misleading, since these types of laws guarantee no one a job, and do not create more jobs or better career opportunities. Under current state and federal law, no worker can be forced to join a union or pay union fees. So why this legislation now?
Making New Hampshire a “Right to Work” state will NOT protect workers’ rights to a job. On the contrary. In fact, by undermining labor unions, “Right to Work” will weaken the best job security protections working people have today: a grievance procedure that requires employers to have legitimate, job-related reasons for disciplining or discharging an employee.
Thanks to labor unions, the American dream was brought within reach for me, and so many others. So-called Right to work is a disingenuous attempt to destroy that dream for the working people of New Hampshire.
To our OS, PAT, and Extension Educator Colleagues:
We wholeheartedly support your unionization efforts!
We believe that a collective voice will strengthen your ability to negotiate working conditions, benefits, and job security, and will provide you with a seat at the table in shared governance with university administration.
Together, we are stronger!
Right to Work: