A South Dakota House committee is passing on legislation that removes collective bargaining for the state’s public universities.
Proponents say the bill will give universities more flexibility
Critics say the bill makes South Dakota’s conservative labor structure even more anti-union.
Currently, five other states don’t allow collective bargaining at their state universities. During public testimony of House Bill 1199, of the 3,500 eligible employees who are union eligible, only 122 are due paying members.
Supporters of the legislation say that lack of support is reason enough to remove collective bargaining.
But Jeremiah Murphy disagrees. He’s a lobbyist for South Dakota Education Association. Since South Dakota is a right to work state, he says those not paying dues are benefiting from union activity.
Murphy says the legislation is an attack on unions, because no one from the Board of Regents or universities testified against the bill.
“The ones who are supposedly tied down by this onerous agreement, they don’t seem to have any complaint,” Murphy says. “That is, all the parties to the agreement are comfortable with it. The attack is coming from the outside, that is people not familiar with the statue quo.”
Murphy says union contracts provide stability, and without that guarantee the costs for teachers will go up. He estimates that cost will get passed on to students.
But the prime sponsor, Speaker of the House Mark Mickelson, disagrees.
He says the bill sprang from his work last year to transfer the USD law school to Sioux Falls. That idea was rejected.
“Certainly my work with the law school brought the issue of nimbleness and ability to adapt to a market and how resistant the faculty was there to change. They have co-management rights so they have decided not to join the union, and I don’t wish to get into tenure and co-management rights of faculty," Mickelson says. "But I did want to send a message that says, ‘Listen, you guys are going to have to be open to change.’”
Mickelson says if universities don’t adapt, students will go out of state.
The bill passed on a 7 to 5 vote. Governor Dennis Daugaard signed a similar bill last year that banned collective bargaining for tech school teachers in South Dakota.