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South Dakota: No Bargaining for College Professors

The state wants to become the sixth state to ban collective bargaining

Brian Young's picture
Feb 25, 2020

South Dakota legislators have begun to pass a measure that would effectively ban unions from the state’s public universities.

On Monday, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 147 and the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on its companion bill. The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 6-3. The bill is expected to be voted on in the House on Wednesday and will receive a vote in the Senate in the coming weeks. It would seem likely to pass both chambers since Republicans hold a 30-5 majority in the Senate and a 59-11 majority in the House.

According to the bill, unions at the six state universities would be banned from entering into collective bargaining agreements. This means that the union would no longer be able to bargain for wages, healthcare, or a disciplinary procedure. While South Dakota is a Right to Work state, the faculty at these universities are represented by the Council of Higher Education, an affiliate of the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA). A similar bill was introduced in 2018, but it failed to get enough votes in the Senate.

“Here we go again. This is the second round of attacks on the university faculty,” said SDEA President Mary McCorkle. “SB 147 is yet another attempt to silence the voice of educators and a bill that is a solution seeking a problem. The truth is more problems will be created by making it more difficult for the state’s six public universities to recruit and retain world-class faculty for students. This was our main concern two years ago and that remains the same concern today. The collective bargaining process has worked at the university level for more than 30 years. Did the Board of Regents recently sound the alarm on collective bargaining? The answer is, no. As a matter of fact, the Regents have expressed concerns over salary competitiveness issues with university systems in other states. Ending collective bargaining does not solve that problem.”

“Banning collective bargaining will only create more uncertainty for faculty and students alike. There will be less transparency for taxpayers if the balance of power tilts only to one side. All of this will have a negative impact on the academic environment in which our students learn and grow academically. Instead of putting up barriers to attracting the best talent to our universities, perhaps legislators should spend their time helping the Board of Regents fund its Dakota Promise Initiative, which will help more low- income students obtain a degree from one of South Dakota’s outstanding universities.”

Legislators who are supporting the bill suggest that instead of unions fighting for raises and representing members in disciplinary hearings, the faculty senate could step up and play that role. Of course, without a CBA the faculty senate would have little power to enforce anything. Additionally, four of the six senates have passed resolutions opposing the ban on collective bargaining.

The legislators say that by eliminating collective bargaining, the state will save a mere $280,000 in contract negotiation costs. However, the union counters saying that any savings will be spent on higher recruitment costs for new teachers. SDEA’s lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy told the Argus Leader that five states currently prohibit college faculty from bargaining and that in those states they end up having to pay much more to attract quality faculty.

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