Lawmakers in New Hampshire's legislature blocked on Thursday a bill to make the state the 29th in the country where paying dues was optional for employees in union-represented jobs.
The 200-177 vote to stop the measure followed passage of similar "right to work" in Missouri and Kentucky this year, where new Republican-controlled legislatures made the issue a top priority.
In New Hampshire, the measure had passed the state senate by one vote last month and Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, had supported it. But in the state House of Representatives, the debate did not break neatly along party lines, with multiple Republican members standing to oppose the measure.
Labor unions say the laws undercut them by allowing people to avoid paying dues while still gaining the benefits and pay negotiated by the union. Supporters say they give workers a choice of whether to pay when they take jobs in union shops.
One opponent noted that wages in states that have passed right-to-work laws are lower than in those that do not.
"Do we really want lower wages for our constituents?" asked Representative Sean Morrison, a Republican who works as a fire fighter. "Let us really work on what really brings jobs to our state: Lower energy costs, lessen red tape."
A fellow Republican representatives who works as an airline pilot and said he has been a member of a pilots' union for over three decades said he nonetheless supported the "right to work" proposal because it would allow union members to hold their leadership accountable.
"You will have heard that 'right to work' is about union busting. It is not," said the pilot, Representative Len Turcotte. "It is about value received and freedom of choice."
Union membership in New Hampshire is slightly lower than the national average, with organized labor representing 9.4 percent of working people in the state compared with 10.7 percent nationwide, according to federal government data.
"Nationwide this is a hallmark Republican issue, but here it New Hampshire it's not so much of a litmus test," said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
The vote came a day after the U.S. labor movement notched a major loss in South Carolina, the least unionized state, when workers at a Boeing Co plant voted not to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio)