State universities’ faculty members could lose collective bargaining in South Dakota this year

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — State lawmakers in each chamber of the Legislature have passed bills that would end collective bargaining at South Dakota’s public universities. But the two aren’t exactly alike.

HB 1266 would take collective bargaining away from all people employed by the state Board of Regents, whose members govern the state universities. Representative Scyller Borglum, a Rapid City Republican, is prime sponsor. House members voted 47-18 Thursday to send it to the Senate.

SB 147 would take collective bargaining away from employees at the state universities but would allow it to continue at the state School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Aberdeen, and at the state School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls.

The regents run those two institutions for K-12 students in addition to the public universities at Brookings, Vermillion, Sioux Falls, Madison, Aberdeen, Rapid City and Spearfish.

Senate Republican leader Kris Langer of Dell Rapids is prime sponsor of SB 147. Senators voted 20-14 Tuesday to send it to the House.

Representative Jon Hansen, a Dell Rapids Republican, is the lead House sponsor of Langer’s bill. Langer is the lead Senate sponsor of Borglum’s bill.

Republican Governor Kristi Noem sent Tiffany Sanderson from her staff to speak in support of Langer’s bill at its Senate committee hearing. Noem’s office didn’t take a public position on Borglum’s bill at its House committee hearing, which took parts of two days. Borglum needed a special vote to get her bill onto the House debate calendar.

Langer showed her appreciation for Borglum, however, when Langer walked up the House floor Thursday afternoon and congratulated a beaming Borglum moments after HB 1266 passed.

Langer’s bill is scheduled for a hearing Monday morning by the House State Affairs Committee. A Senate hearing date for Borglum’s bill hasn’t been set. The Senate had already finished its work and adjourned for the weekend by the time Borglum’s bill came up for debate Thursday.

The regents, who are appointed by the governor, haven’t taken a public position on either bill. Their executive director, Paul Beran, watched from the gallery Tuesday during the Senate debate. The regents’ legal counsel, Nathan Lukkes, answered questions but didn’t take a side during hearings by the Senate and House committees.

The regents listened to a teleconference briefing Friday afternoon by various members of their central office’s staff about different pieces of legislation, including the two on collective bargaining. The regents had been in a 20-minutes executive session before the public meeting. No one from the regents or the universities’ leadership asked any questions about any of the bills during the public meeting.

Afterward, Lukkes explained to KELOLAND News that the regents would replace collective bargaining, if it is repealed, with employment policies such as those the regents already have in place for the University of South Dakota medical school and law school. The medical school and law school faculties aren’t covered by collective bargaining.

Lukkes said the universities’ general faculty members typically have annual contracts. The conditions in those contracts would remain in place until the contracts expire, he said, and then the regents’ employment policies would take effect for new contracts.

Lukkes said the regents follow a rule that requires policy proposals be considered at two meetings before taking effect. He said there have been a few times when proposals were adopted with single readings, but those required unanimous votes by the board.

The South Dakota Education Association has been trying to stop both bills.

Approximately 1,350 faculty members at the six state universities and two centers would be affected by the loss of collective bargaining, according to the organization’s communications director, Sandra Waltman.

Waltman said about 200 of those faculty belong to the Council of Higher Education, the branch of SDEA that represents faculty in the collective bargaining. She said the first contract under collective bargaining took effect in 1979.

KELOLAND News asked Waltman what would replace collective bargaining if it gets repealed. She replied, “That has not been defined.”

Waltman continued, “Much of what is in the contract is either currently in the Board of Regents policy or could be placed in policy. However, polices are non-binding and can be changed at one meeting of the board. There has also been some mention of doing the (negotiating) work through the six faculty senates. All six faculty senates have passed resolutions supporting the faculties’ right to collective bargaining.”

KELOLAND News asked Waltman whether outlawing collective bargaining for the faculty would set the stage for the Legislature to repeal collective bargaining for SDEA’s local units in South Dakota’s K-12 public school districts.

“When the Legislature took away collective bargaining rights for the faculty at the four technical institutes, we were told that they would leave other educators alone. Then the legislators went after the higher ed faculty, again saying that the ban will not impact the K-12 educators,” Waltman answered.

“It only stands to reason that once the state has silenced the faculty at the technical institutes and the universities that the K-12 educators will be next,” she continued. “The trust has been broken.”

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