Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Legislature and Public Employees

The South Dakota Legislature is not going to be any different than other Republican state legislatures in this country when it comes to attacking public employees. This state is a right-to-work state and has been for a long time. Unions don't have a foothold in this state except among public employees. Maybe that's because public employees have always been at the mercy of elected officials and historically have wages below a competitive private sector market. The legislature can get away with no raises for state employees because they are the largest employer in the state capital. Where else are all those people going to go work?

The employees working for the City of Sioux Falls did not organize until the late 70's and early 80's and organized because of certain employment practices. There were layoffs of general employees, and physical agility testing for firefighters that energized those public sector employees to petition to hold an election to be represented by a collective bargaining agreement.

Public employees in SD cannot strike. Public employees in SD do not have binding arbitration. I happen to agree with those two positions. I do not think it is in the public interest to allow public employees the right to strike. Nor do I think public employees should have the ability to go to binding arbitration in a labor dispute. An independent third party should not be able to obligate the taxpayers to any amount of money without the express approval of the elected body of the jurisdiction employing those public employees.

However, I do not have a problem with public employees having the right to unionize in SD. I have never been afraid of unions. I have always been of the mindset that private companies and yes, public sector employers usually get an organized effort to unionize when management does not treat their employees fairly or in good faith. Once a union gets into a workplace, it is very hard to decertify that union.

I have worked in a unionized setting as a management employee my entire professional career, both in the private sector and in the public sector. Did management and the unions always agree? No. Was it irritating at times to sit at the bargaining table and listen to what I believed were unreasonable demands. Yes, but there was a benefit to sitting at a bargaining table and discussing matters related to wages, hours and conditions of employment in good faith and there were many instances where we were able to find common ground. It is hard to find common ground when unilateral action is taken by an employer just because they can and employees have no ability to discuss issues relating to their employment conditions.

Let's be clear. In South Dakota, public employees do not have the right to negotiate their pension benefits. South Dakota law is clear on that subject. It is not a mandatory subject of bargaining. We are not like other states where pension benefits are a mandatory subject of bargaining.  It is humorous that the legislature is proposing a new law that says the unions could still represent public employees, they just couldn't bargain for wages, hours, and benefits. What the heck is left to represent and bargain for?

The labor laws in this state still side with the employer. Where the two sides cannot come to an agreement, there is mediation conducted by the State. The public employer can still unilaterally implement a disputed labor contract. The labor laws are leaned towards the public employer.

To support taking the ability of public employees to sit down at the bargaining table in good faith to discuss issues and to negotiate for wages, hours and conditions of employment is simply not necessary in this state. All this proposed legislation is going to do is inflame and demean the very people who are for the majority dedicated public employees who work without notice and sometimes a non competitive wage to preserve the public safety and well being of it's citizens.

This proposed legislation is a waste of time in a state that has historically been hostile to a collective bargaining environment and has the laws on the books at the present time to prove it. Public employers still have the ability to say no and the unions in this state can't do anything about it. So, quite worrying about it by passing this unnecessary law. Another example of a legislature that can't see the forrest for the trees.


  1. Thanks for the post Jen! I couldnt agree more. I watched the story on Kelo last night. I found the following quote by Rep. Liss odd...

    "Collective bargaining has been used by the unions to rampage in other states," Rep. Liss said. "It's like Godzilla. They're inhaling as many dollars as they can and incinerating anybody they don't like."

    I defy Representative Liss to name one such union that has been able to inhale tax dollars and incinerate people in our state. The items that you have outlined douse the flames pretty quickly....

    And then there is the change of the state flag. I wont comment on the design or the reasons we might want to contemplate changing the design. I'd like to send you in a different direction...

    Has anyone thought about the economic impact that this change will have. Perhaps somneone could figure up how much a flag change would cost the taxpayers of Sioux Falls. A flag costs about $50 for a small and $100 for a medium sized flag. How many public buildings (city, county, school and state) would have to replace the flag at an average of $75 a pop? A wise of use of tax dollars???? I dont think so....

    Come on elected officials, let's focus on the matters in the state that need attention.

    1. Let us stop and think sensibly for a moment on will be needed not only the change of the flags themselves!! One must think of all the places the South Dakota state flag is flown.....all over the United States......wherever State Flags are flown. What about all the official stationery? How about all the webpages that will need to be re-designed. It is a monstrous expense not needed at this time. Come on State Legislatures...think about it and the money that would be thrown away to update all this...and certainly much more! The ramifications are huge!!

  2. Representative Liss. Isn't that the same deep thinker who last year defended the sales tax on food as a way of fighting obesity because it would force poor people to buy less food? Given how this state works, one day we will be calling him Governor Liss.

  3. Well said Jennifer. South Dakotans have nothing to fear from public Unions because public unions in this state really have no power at all. Without binding arbitration public unions in South Dakota can only ask for certain wages and benefits and then wait for the city or state to say yes or no.

  4. Who elects these bozos to the SD State Legislature any way? When are we going to start electing responsible, intelligent people to our government positions?

  5. THe one name who is also suporting the Bill is Sean Tornow. If Tornow puts his name on something, it is usually garbage