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SDGOP Also Hates Higher Ed: Collective Bargaining Ban Passes Committee

Senate State Affairs heard Senate Bill 147 yesterday, Majority Leader Kris Langer’s proposal to ban collective bargaining by Regental employees. Leading off testimony for her bill, Senator Langer said collective bargaining prevents our universities from being flexible. She said the lengthy collective bargaining agreement between our Regental institutions and faculty prevents universities from hiring professors who don’t meet minimum qualifications… which she couched in typical Republican pro-business anti-intellectualism:

Why wouldn’t we want teachers with real-world experience in certain fields. It defines logic in my opinion. You can teach a child—or a young man or woman—the book parts of any subject, but to put that into real practice is what needs to really improve our workforce [Senator Kris Langer, testimony for 2020 SB 147, Senate State Affairs, 2020.02.24].

Langer testified since the 2017 banning of collective bargaining on our vo-tech campuses, those schools “have continued to flourish.” Post hoc propter hoc, we should expect the same to happen if we bust unions at our universities and anywhere else, right?

Langer also said Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, and Wisconsin all ban public universities

In fully fledged GOP Newspeak, Senator Langer averred that banning professors from working together to negotiate good working conditions is “not anti-faculty… not anti-higher education.” Langer said SB 146 will “enhance the ability of our universities to compete in a competitive and ever-changing market by removing the barrier of the bargaining process and affording our universities the flexibility to adjust to a changing market in a timely and efficient fashion and to provide for the future workforce needs of our state.”

Governor Kristi Noem sent advisor Tiffany Sanderson to read that last line almost word-for-word from whatever Koch Brothers cue card they were handed (because, really, no original ideas come from this Governor’s office). Senator Jeff Partridge dropped in to say professors are costing us money by negotiating. He said only 8% of Regental employees belong to the Council of Higher Education, the campus bargaining agent, which he suggested means 92% of Regental employees reject the merit of collective bargaining. Partridge contended that printing, travel, and staff time related to COHE’s “demands” cost taxpayers $285,000 a year while providing “very little of value.” Partridge said getting the union and its lengthy contract out of the way will help our campuses be “entrepreneurial… creative, and nimble.”

Americans for Prosperity sent their South Dakota chief and former legislator Don Haggar said collective bargaining is antithetical to the mission of our public universities. He said the “ever more rapid rate of change” of the current economy demands that universities be able to respond to market demands more quickly than those darn workers allow.

Opponent testimony began with lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy from the South Dakota Education Association (of which COHE is an arm). He said SB 147 is “expensive, unnecessary, and unpopular.” He said unions are already restricted from negotiating salaries or benefits, cannot go to binding arbitration, cannot strike, and are subject to our “right-to-work” law. He said the latter restriction on labor rights is this case working: since South Dakota doesn’t allow the campuses to require every employee to to join the union, lots of smart professors say, “I’ll happily take advantage of the fact that COHE has to collectively bargain for my working conditions even if I don’t pay dues!”

Murphy said that if the union is as unpopular as Partridge alleged, the faculty on every campus could call a vote to decertify COHE, and the 92% Partridge alleges are on his side would win pretty easily. Murphy also said Partridge got his numbers wrong: 115 represents the number of COHE members who pay their dues through salary deductions. He said the full membership is more like 200. Either way, the non-members are a strong majority, and either way, that strong majority isn’t acting to eliminate its own union, indicating that even those non-members recognize the value of collective bargaining.

Murphy said the Regents already have the authority to impose “professors of practice” (the non-credentialed but oh-so-experienced experts Senator Langer says are vital to nimble, entrepreneurial, non-book-parts education) or any other workplace condition if they want, even if COHE votes hard no.

Murphy took on the alleged $285,000 cost, saying that savings depends not simply on eliminating the union but on the Regents’ somehow eliminating their entire grievance procedure, tenure, and meetings with the faculty senates that are supposed to take up the remaining duties of the union post-SB 147. The work of managing faculty will still be there, Muprhy said, and that “incredibly efficient” management expense of 0.002% (I get 0.0026% from Murphy’s figures, which would round to 0.003%) would be the envy of “any corporation in the country.”

Murphy challenged the comparison to other states. He said 90% of states allow faculty to collectively bargain and said SB 147 will send the message that “South Dakota’s against their faculty” and make it harder to recruit talented professors. He also said that the 120-page collective bargaining agreement (which Langer portrayed as some awful bureaucratic burden but which Murphy, in the best simile offered under the Dome Monday, likened to the size of “a country-church cookbook”) guarantees academic freedom for every faculty member; pass SB 147, ban collective bargaining, and that protection goes away for left-wing and right-wing professors alike.

Former SDSU biochemist Ron Utecht, recognized in 2015 by Governor Dennis Daugaard as Entrepreneur of the Year, spoke of creating vital medical products and high-tech jobs. Utecht served in COHE, and he said collective bargaining made his entrepreneurial success possible. The contract provides clear standards and expectations that provide consistency beyond the sometimes shifting priorities of administratively minded supervisors.

USD librarian Alan Aldrich challenged Senator Langer’s cheap attack on the mere length of the contract by noting that the contract includes many appendices, including Regental policy on sexual harassment. “The reason for so much policy is you need certainty, you need guidance when you have a very complex organization.” Aldrich said Partridge did “a very fine job of articulating costs,” but Aldrich said post-SB 147, those costs would simply shift to other management costs. He said Regental meetings would need an extra day to add meetings with faculty senate. Aldrich says COHE acts as a buffer between faculty and administration, filtering grievances: he said that for every grievance he helped file while a COHE member, he talked six or seven other faculty out of filing grievances, either because the aggrieved faculty couldn’t point to specific policies in the negotiated agreement or because the faculty misinterpreted that agreement. Get rid of COHE and the collectively bargained agreement, and more grievances cost the Regents more money.

Retired SDSU economist Bill Adamson spoke of one of his specializations, labor economics. He said professors invest a lot in their career preparation and want to work someplace with stability to ensure they get a reliable return on their investment. Adamson said SB 147 undermines that stability in a system that already has salaries 20% below the average professor salary; if we want to maintain the same labor supply, removing collective bargaining will require us to raise faculty salaries to compensate for the increased risk faculty will face.

Adamson also analyzed our six universities’ budgets. He said faculty salary equals 15% of total Regental costs and 30% of FTEs, indicating that higher costs lie elsewhere in the system and that banning collective bargaining won’t save money.

The opponents of SB 147 presented facts, figures, and the reality of the faculty labor market. The proponents presented arch-capitalist whimsy and loathing for book-learning. Predictably, the latter prevailed, with six Republicans voting to advance the ban on faculty collective bargaining to the full Senate.

Senate State Affairs includes three campus-town Senators. Chairman Bob Ewing from BHSU-Town voted against SB 147 and for his local professots. Jordan Youngberg of DSU-Town and Al Novstrup of NSU-Town voted to stifle the rights and recruitment of professors at their local institutions. At the upcoming crackerbarrel this Saturday at Northern State University, Senator Novstrup will likely turn to Northern profs and tell them that if they don’t like all the freedom he’s giving them (or at least their bosses), they can move to another state. And if SB 147 passes, some of them will… which is exactly what Republicans want: an exodus of intellectual talent in favor of pro-business stooges who will stop filling our young people’s heads with radical book-learning and indoctrinate them in the Novstrup-Langer-Partridge-Haggar-SDGOP dogma that business comes first.


  1. David Newquist 2020-02-25

    Here we go again. As a former president of COHE on the local and state levels, I am well acquainted with the anti-worker attitude in the state. But I wonder how the effort to ban collective bargaining can reconcile with the National Labor Relations Act:

    “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as authorized in section 158(a)(3) of this title.”

  2. o 2020-02-25

    I suppose my question is How are SD universities being hampered by the voice of faculty? If I want to take this discussion into the realm of reality (away from philosophy), how does faculty obstruct change?

    My follow up is If there is obstruction or resistance to a specific change, who is right? The GOP/corporate assumption that management is always right has not been the case in my experience.

    The irony of the GOP wanting our universities to be open to free speech last year – now wanting to silence to voices of its workforce is also not lost on me.

  3. Kari 2020-02-25

    Al can put his money where his mouth is. I’m a PhD student, woman, mixed Lakota, and I’m about thisclose to packing up for greener pastures in MN. There are others who’ve done the same. The continued attacks at every angle on folks in this state is so frustrating. Meanwhile, what is being done with quality childcare, and quality nursing home care for our elders? If they aren’t voting down statute of limitations so Native American women can seek justice from torment in assimilation schools, they are attacking trans kids and their families. If they aren’t doing that Sue Peterson et al. are on an attack against higher-ed. By the way, why aren’t our k-12 teachers getting raises? It’s loud and clear Al and the rest of SDGOP care not for my kind around here. I can take my PhD, my ovaries, and my Native braids where they are better appreciated.
    Final thoughts: when did the GOP start going against limited government?

  4. Kari 2020-02-25

    David – do you think this is something that, if passed, legal action can be taken?

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-02-25

    I’m thinking about what to say to Kari and others like her that could persuade them to stay and fight for a better South Dakota.

    But then it hits me: we need Kari and talent like her more than Kari and colleagues need us. There are lots of places that intellectuals, people of mixed race, women, workers, etc. can go without facing constant insult, not to mention constant threats to their basic civil rights. There aren’t as many talented young students, entrepreneurs, and families who are willing to put up with our abuse on top of our bad weather and low wages.

    What case can we make to smart scholars and workers like Kari to sacrifice income, opportunity, and public respect and stay and fight for reform in South Dakota?

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-02-25

    On that long collective agreement that Senator Langer thinks hinders innovation and flexibility at our universities:

    The Legislator Reference Book is 128 pages long. The Legislature’s Joint Rules, House Rules, and Senate Rules together number 58 more pages. That’s a lot of pages guiding an entity that’s only 1% the size of the Regental system. By Langer’s thinking, that must be the logical explanation for why our Legislature is so inflexible and un-innovative.

    While I’m thinking like Senator Langer, I have to ask why do legislators even have terms of office? Why, when we see legislators proposing harmful legislation or failing to show up for work, can’t we immediately fire them and replace them with new legislators? And why do legislators get to work collectively to protect their jobs? Clearly the Republican Party and its collective activities on behalf of its members is at least as much of an impediment to political innovation and responsiveness to popular needs as Langer alleges COHE to be to the state’s academic and business needs.

  7. bearcreekbat 2020-02-25

    What case can we make to smart scholars and workers like Kari to sacrifice income, opportunity, and public respect and stay and fight for reform in South Dakota?

    One possibility: the opportunity to become a big fish in a tiny pond and perhaps have a chance to make the pond better for the little fish.

  8. mike from iowa 2020-02-25

    She said the lengthy collective bargaining agreement between our Regental institutions and faculty prevents universities from hiring professors who don’t meet minimum qualifications… which she couched in typical Republican pro-business anti-intellectualism:

    Doesn’t the bored of regents set regental policy and were not all the bored members hand picked by wingnuts complaining about their own policies?

  9. bearcreekbat 2020-02-25

    Another thought – if a young person completing his or her education really wants to make a positive difference in the world then it makes sense to go to where the need is and SD currently pretty falls in that demographic.

  10. grudznick 2020-02-25

    BAH on unions. Unions are dying.

  11. Debbo 2020-02-25

    What Kari said at 11:23. Kari, you’re my hero.

    BTW, life is great here in Minnesota, but you’ll still experience some racism and sexism. It won’t be state sanctioned, like SD. In fact, the state is trying to help end it, but it’s here. I’m sorry.

  12. Debbo 2020-02-25

    GOP = the party of HATE.

    What an ugly way to exist.

  13. David Newquist 2020-02-25

    I’ll answer Kari’s direct question and others that came up. But first, a disclosure. After serving as state president of COHE, I eventually resigned from the union. There were multiple reasons, a large one of which is summarized in Jeremiah Murphy’s statement. When faculty realized that the collective bargaining agent would represent them whether they were dues-paying members or not, they began to drop their memberships. As a result, the dues increased for those who remained to cover expenses. And I was also a grievance monitor. That role is to insure that grievants receive due process as specified in the contract and to keep them advised of the extent and limits of their rights. Half of the cases I participated in were for faculty who were not union members.

    At the time, NSU and SDSU were both under sanction by the American Association of University Professors of which I was a member during my entire tenure as a professor. When it came to receiving cogent advice, the AAUP headquarters in Washington was able and willing to provide information about which the SDEA in Pierre was hesitant. The idea to ban collective bargaining among the faculty had been raised back then, and two basic points were made by AAUP personnel. The first was that eliminating the faculty’s right to bargain would be a violation of the First Amendment:
    “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Through the Fourteenth Amendment with its specification of equal rights under the law, those protections extend to state government. The National Labor Relations Act, cited above, is grounded in the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments.

    The exception to that blanket statement of bargaining rights is the public employees of states. Nine states currently ban or are considering a ban on collective bargaining by their public employees. The NLRA specifically excludes some federal and state employees from the act. So, some states choose to extend the bargaining rights and protections to their employees, while others deprive them. No one that I know of has challenged that deprivation under the equal-protection-of-the-law rubric, but the threat to challenge such bans discouraged their enactment in the past in South Dakota. As Mr. Murphy points out, unions are left with little power outside of their right to speak up: “unions are already restricted from negotiating salaries or benefits, cannot go to binding arbitration, cannot strike, and are subject to our “right-to-work” law.”

    The collective bargaining agreement was a major consideration when the AAUP lifted the sanctions from South Dakota. Those sanctions were a warning to professors that the state was not a good place to practice their profession. The state and its higher education institutions are not highly regarded within the profession, but the collective bargaining agreement enforces the rights to teach, do scholarship, research, and publish the results of one’s work.

    The NLRA needs to be amended to give public employees the same rights as their non-public fellows. Ultimately, it is a civil rights issue, and it is not a credit to the profession that it continues in some states.

  14. grudznick 2020-02-25

    Mr. Newquist, you should have called in on the telephone and talked to the legislatures, if you could not be there to help out the union’s high-falootin’ lobbist.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-02-26

    I’m intrigued that BCB couples a self-interested motivation (build one’s reputation by playing in a smaller market, like the kids who open enroll out of Aberdeen to go play basketball at Warner or Groton or sign up at Roncalli or Aberdeen Christian) with an other-oriented motivation (go where the need exists and serve others).

    Does the former work? Is being a big fish in a small pond sufficient, or must that small-pond big-fishery have to lead to opportunities to swim to the ocean?

    Does the latter work? Emigrating to South Dakota to help the locals seems a scary prospect when 60% of the locals don’t seem to want help, as they keep voting for Trump, Noem, Novstrup, and other fascists and incompetents. People do join the Peace Corps to go to countries where they may encounter opposition to the aid and education they bring, but the Peace Corps has to operate under a non-imperialist, non-provocative model of culture change. Peace Corps members jump in knowing they are interrupting their career and family plans to put up with hard living conditions and possible local resistance for just two years; the program requires an institutional persistence that keeps cycling in fresh volunteers. In seeking a domestic Peace Corps (Reform Corps? Green Corps?), we’re asking Kari and folks of similar inclination to move to South Dakota, put down roots, and commit to a lifetime of campaigning to change this community.

    Dang: now I know what Bloomberg, Steyer, and other rich progressives (I’m being generous to Bloomberg) should do with their billions: they should establish branches of their corporations in Sioux Falls and Rapid City (and Aberdeen, if they can afford it). They recruit 20,000 young people to work at those branch offices at some reasonably easy and productive occupation. They arrange lodging for their employees so they are distributed equally among the adjoining Legislative districts. If we focus just on SF, RC, and Aberdeen, we can put over a thousand young liberal voters in up to 18 districts within easy driving morning commute distances of central city offices. Those employees main job from May to November is to register to vote, canvass for Democrats, and then vote en masse for a straight Democratic ticket. Their own votes and their mobilization of other Democrats would flip Republican districts, overcome the Sutton–Noem vote gap (assuming we can convince these Bloomberg/Steyer recruits to vote for a conservative like Sutton), and change the public discourse in South Dakota. On July 1 of the odd year, they all head back to where they came from, and a new corps come in with new energy to do the same.

    Of course, real reform can’t be sustained by visitors. They have to give us a jump start that will allow progressives to come out of hiding or stop leaving the state and instead engage to preserve goodness and decency here in our own community.

  16. David Newquist 2020-02-26

    South Dakota goes back on the list of undesirable places for professors to work.

  17. Kari 2020-02-26

    David – thanks for the thorough explanation. These are trying times (as always).
    Corey’s ideas at 5:34 are noteworthy! If only we could get that momentum from those folks!
    Debbo – I thank you!

  18. o 2020-02-26

    It seems clear that SD conservatives are charting the path of Wisconsin or Kansas – trying to find the answer to “How far can they degrade wages and professionals until there is push back — HARD push back.” The worst part is that when those states were “successful” in their anti-tax, anti-education, anti-professional respect agendas, they were WORSE OFF than when they started.

    Yet, they persist.

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