AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2021-04

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January 23, 2021 ~ Bow, NH

“Teacher unions.”  A phrase often heard in NH news this week.  Why?  Governor Sununu has come under strong criticism for omitting educators from the top tier categories for COVID vaccinations.  Forty-eight of the fifty states have put educators in the top tier, understanding that if they are vaccinated, then there will be fewer positives, fewer quarantines due to potential exposure, etc. Here in NH, there is a severe shortage of substitute teachers and para-educators to replace those required to quarantine.  If educators were vaccinated, the quarantine problem would begin to subside, the substitute shortage would be ameliorated, and more schools would begin returning to full-scale in-person learning.  Once that happens, parents can then return to work and a more normal life.  End result?  A quicker return to something resembling pre-COVID life in NH.  Now isn’t that something we are all waiting and hoping for this year? 

Neither AFT-NH nor NEA-NH control the decisions on re-opening schools.  Elected school boards make those decisions.  So why is Governor Sununu charging “teacher unions” with blocking re-opening and why is he slamming them for criticizing his refusal to vaccinate educators quickly?  Many suspect it is really part of a deeper and broader campaign to smear AFT-NH, NEA-NH and labor unions in general.  Why?  Because of Republican-sponsored legislation such as the two proposals discussed below.  Sununu and Republicans are laying groundwork to discredit those who oppose them.  They want to demonize those who believe that public funds should go only to public schools and that the agreed-upon contractual provisions between private employers and labor unions should not be subject to unnecessary interference on the part of government. 

Innovation Schools? On this upcoming Tuesday, January 26th, the House Education committee will hold a hearing at 1:30pm on  HB 609 a bill to establish “innovation schools.” This is not a new proposal, based as it is on model legislation adopted by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) in 2009.  ALEC, of course, is an organization focused on bringing together state legislators and connecting them to corporate-friendly legislative proposals and initiatives promoting corporate tax breaks, promoting privatization of public schools, and weakening any and all labor and collective bargaining rights.  In fact, if one were to place HB 609 next to the model legislation on “innovation schools” set forth by ALEC, you would find significant swathes of HB 609 are either lifted word-for-word from ALEC’s model, or paraphrased to simply meet the specific context of New Hampshire. 

What does the bill propose?  Essentially, it offers another avenue for the creation of charter schools and the siphoning of public funds into charters, whereby established systems of transparency and accountability regarding funding, expenditures, performance, etc. are all greatly reduced or minimized.  Further, these “innovation schools” would be empowered to set aside or waive existing provisions in collective bargaining agreements, provisions including pay, hours, workloads, and workplace protections for educators.  In sum, these would be another variant of charter schools, siphoning public funding from existing public schools and placing more education in the hands of the private sector (note that innovation schools can seek and utilize private grants, gifts and donations, often with proverbial strings attached).

NH already has numerous charter schools, many of which remain significantly under-enrolled, yet NH has also accepted a major grant from the Federal government to expand the number of charter schools.  “Innovation schools” are just another unnecessary wrinkle in this offensive against accountable public education, siphoning off taxpayer funds into entities that further weaken any transparency, accountability and contractual agreements.  As such, HB 609 should be roundly rejected by the NH Legislature. 

Action Requested   To register your opposition to HB 609 at the hearing on Tuesday, you simply need to do the following:  Go to this link: SIGN IN OPPOSITION TO HB 609.  1. Click on the calendar for January 26th. 2. Select House Education Committee. 3. Select, “I am a member of the Public”. 4. Click “I oppose the Bill”.  Please be sure to do this in advance of the 1:30 pm hearing time.

Right to Work (for less) is still wrong for NH.

The other immediately important piece of legislation is SB 61, the by-now utterly familiar “so-called right-to-work” or the “right to work for less” bill that makes its appearance in NH every two years.  SB 61 will be heard in the Senate Commerce Committee this Tuesday, January 26 at 930am and as with aforementioned HB 609, you can register your opposition by doing the following:

Action Requested  Click this link: SENATE COMMERCE HEARING ON SB 61. 1. Click on the calendar for January 26th. 2. Select Senate Commerce Committee. 3. Select, “I am a member of the Public”. 4. Click “I oppose the Bill”. And that’s it. Please be sure to do this in advance of the 9:30 am hearing time.

There is not much new to be said about “so-called right-to-work.”  No one is guaranteed a job by it, but it does allow workers to free-load off of union contracts, obtaining all the benefits (wages, insurance, protections) of a contract without having to contribute a dime to the costs of negotiating or enforcing said contract.  Since “agency” fees (fees paid by workers in a bargaining unit who refuse to join a union but are still covered by the contract) are no longer permitted in the public sector, SB 61 aims to weaken labor and undermine collective bargaining in the private sector.  It is governmental interference in contractual negotiations in the private sector, pure and simple.  By interfering in private agreements, SB 61 will weaken labor unions and weaken collective bargaining, leading to lower wages and compensation for working families all across New Hampshire.  Remember, organized labor has long led the way for improved wages, benefits and working conditions in the United States and in New Hampshire.  You’ve seen the bumper sticker:  “The Labor Movement:  The Folks Who Brought You the Weekend.”  It is a simple truth-benefits won by unions are later extended to all working people.  It is also why corporate America and their minions such as Governor Sununu continue to push “so-called right to work.”  Weaken labor unions, weaken collective bargaining, and you weaken all working families across New Hampshire. So even if you work in a non-unionized workplace or work in the public sector, please take a moment to register your opposition to SB 61 and take a stand on behalf of working families in New Hampshire.  This is bad legislation and it must be stopped.

Dangerous Times Ahead   These two bills, HB 609 and SB 61 are just the tip of the iceberg.  The 2021 session of the NH legislature will likely go down in history as one of the worst when it comes to public education and the rights of working people in New Hampshire.  Chris Sununu and Frank Edelblut are each preparing to run in 2022 for, respectively, US Senate and NH governor. Let’s hand them their first defeats of the campaign! 

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NH Retirement Security Coalition   AFT-NH is a member of the NH Retirement Security Coalition (NHRSC). The NHRSC will be tracking all bills related to the NH Retirement System and continuing advocacy for our members. You can find the legislation tracker following retirement bills by clicking on the following link, 2021 Legislation.

Two important NH Retirement bills seeking to increase the state’s contribution to cities and towns will be heard this week.

HB 274-FN  Would increase state contribution to 5%. This bill will be heard by the Executive Department and Administration committee on Wednesday, January 27th at 11:00am. You can register support for this bill by clicking on this link, Support HB 274  and follow these easy steps:  

1. Click on the calendar for January 27th. 2. Select House Executive Departments and Administration committee. 3. Select, “I am a member of the Public”. 4. Click “I Support the Bill”.  Please be sure to do this in advance of the hearing time.

SB 72-FN    Would increase state contribution to 15%. This bill will be heard by the Senate Finance committee on Thursday, January 28th at 9:45 am. To support SB 72, click on this link, SUPPORT SB 72-FN and follow these easy steps: 1. Click on the calendar for January 28th. 2. Select Senate Finance committee. 3. Select, “I am a member of the Public”. 4. Click “I Support the Bill”. Please be sure to do this in advance of the hearing time.

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