S.D. Workers’ Collective Bargaining Rights Safe – For Now

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 31, 2012

South Dakota state Sen. Stan Adelstein (R-Rapid City), chief sponsor of a bill banning collective bargaining for public employees, had a change of heart after meeting last Saturday with public service workers, including members of AFSCME Council 59.

“Conversations with friends and supporters on both sides of the aisle have persuaded me that the proposed legislation is unnecessary and poses unintended consequences for police, firemen and teachers,” Senator Adelstein said in a statement.

Despite Adelstein’s reversal, others of his party are still interested in pushing the bill. It is not yet dead. That’s a shame. Although South Dakota’s state public service workers do not currently have the right to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions, taking that right away from those who do – teachers, firefighters, police and some county and city employees – is an attack on the Main Street values of workers everywhere.

We’re glad Senator Adelstein took the time to listen to the people who would be most hurt by his bill. “Too often legislators take a knee jerk reaction to unions and collective bargaining without knowing the issues and the importance they serve,” said Council 59 Exec. Dir. Matt Miller. “We think anyone who studies the issue in depth understands collective bargaining is a fundamental part of American life. We hope other legislatures look at it in as much depth as Mr. Adelstein does.”

Until the bill is officially killed, however, Miller said that Council 59 members will remain vigilant. “We want to make it clear to Senator Adelstein or any other legislators who support a bill banning collective bargaining that it is unacceptable to public employees in South Dakota,” said Miller. “We are on alert and ready to debate this issue wherever it’s riSenator”

Senator Adelstein said he came to realize that passage of the legislation “would be in opposition to my values of supporting fair compensation, and recognition for our state’s capable public employees.” Also, he said, it “would cause grievous harm.”

But we are still concerned that Senator Adelstein doesn’t understand the true nature of collective bargaining. Just days before reversing course, he stated, “I’ve opposed collective bargaining through the years, because it’s always seemed to me that it benefits those who are not interested in compensation based on their efforts.”

Senator Adelstein is plain wrong on this point, and he also does not seem to realize that collective bargaining is about more than compensation. It’s about the basic right of public service workers to negotiate with their employer to improve their jobs, their safety, and even (in the case of nursing staff ratios) to better protect the lives of those in their care.

Voters in Ohio recently came to the same conclusion as Senator Adelstein and voted down a measure that also would have repealed collective bargaining rights. A similar effort was recently blocked in Nebraska. But workers’ union rights are under attack in Indiana, Michigan and other states.

But we’re fighting back. Check out how registered voters in Wisconsin are dealing with a governor who repealed collective bargaining rights last year.

For more about the importance of collective bargaining rights, click here

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