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.