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SD Public Safety Workers ‘Laboring’ For Stronger Rights Law

October 24, 2007

Huron, SD – Police and firefighters have the right to join a union in South Dakota, but labor officials say the current state law is weak in terms of employees' bargaining rights. That could change with a bipartisan bill now in the U.S. Senate.

Paul Aylward is executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union in South Dakota. He says the "Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act," which has already passed in the U.S. House, would be a significant improvement over current state law.

"It would actually include a process to settle disputes when the sides reach an impasse during negotiations. In South Dakota now, if the parties cannot agree on a contract, basically the employer has the last say."

Right-to-Work proponents are opposed to the Act, claiming it would lead to strikes by public safety officials. Aylward calls those fears "unfounded."

"Here in South Dakota, public employees are prohibited from striking. I believe there is the same provision in the national law, so there would be no threat of strikes and no loss of public service."

Aylward is convinced the legislation would benefit both employers and employees.

"If the law is passed, and the legislature and citizens of South Dakota saw that it was something that would not harm public services and would be good for employer-employee relations, I believe we could adopt that same type of legislation for all public employees."

The Act would create a bargaining system for fire and police personnel, with federal oversight. State legislatures could approve their own public safety bargaining laws, but if those states law fail to meet federal standards, the Federal Labor Relations Authority could step in and take over negotiations.

David Law/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - SD