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Public Workers Challenged by SD Legislators

January 30, 2012

PIERRE, S.D. - Setting up the kind of battle over union rights already seen in some other states, a group of 18 South Dakota lawmakers, all Republicans, is co-sponsoring a bill to keep public employees from using collective bargaining to negotiate their contracts with state and local governments.

Public workers in South Dakota are already prohibited from striking, and Mark Anderson, president of the South Dakota State Federation of Labor, says House Bill 12-61 would take away their remaining rights and demoralize the work force.

"Now, without collective bargaining, it's going to be tough to keep wages up in South Dakota. We have the lowest-paid workers in the country, and now they are going to try to take away one of the ways that workers can at least have the ability to bargain over their wages and benefits and working conditions."

Anderson says stricter rules for negotiating public employees' contracts just aren't necessary.

"Public employees in South Dakota are already limited by our bargaining laws. They don't have the right to strike, they don't have binding arbitration. And so it's tough for public employees the way the law is written now, and to completely take it away makes no sense."

As the state looks to increase its work force numbers, Anderson says doing away with collective bargaining is not the way to get there.

"Where the collective bargaining rights are strong, wages are always higher, and that's one of the problems we have in South Dakota. We're talking about spending $5 million now to recruit workers to come into the state. Why don't we figure out how to pay them more? And collective bargaining is the key to that."

The website reports that 21 percent of South Dakota public workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements, and less than four percent of workers in the private sector have similar agreements.

See the bill at legis.state.sd.us

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD