Last year, South Dakota Legislature’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mark Mickelson (R), successfully passed legislation ending collective bargaining for the state’s four technical institutes. Last fall, he announced his intention to end collective bargaining for the Council of Higher Education (COHE), which represents faculty members of the state’s six public universities.
The two bills now in front of the legislature are House Bill 1197, an Act to prohibit public school administrators from participating in collective bargaining, and House Bill 1198, an Act to prohibit school districts from compensating official labor union representatives or negotiators.
Mickelson has stated frustration over the 2017 failed attempt to relocate the University of South Dakota’s (USD) School of Law from its Vermillion campus to Sioux Falls, approximately 60 miles north. Numerous open discussions and forums were held regarding this move, with the general consensus viewing it as detrimental to the campus as a whole, and, aside from travel issues, denying law school students and faculty access to campus facilities, resources, and other aspects or benefits from its housing within the state’s main liberal arts institution. The relatively short distance involved and technologies allowing various communications were also considered.
Although Mickelson claimed a main obstacle to relocation was instructors unwilling to commute to Sioux Falls for courses with this protected by collective bargaining, he did not acknowledge that law school faculty are not included in COHE’s bargaining unit and thus not allowed to bargain.
COHE has stated banning collective bargaining, and perhaps tenure, will intensify the difficulties the six campuses already face regarding faculty recruitment and retention. COHE’s President commented that as SD is competing with highly-regarded universities in neighboring states, informing prospective applicants that they will not have a voice regarding various policies and especially determining how they may conduct research, interact with students, and perhaps be unable to earn tenure, will doubtless send them elsewhere.
Further, COHE views collective bargaining as a faculty’s avenue of communicating with the Board of Regents regarding various needs of the state’s campuses, but more importantly, informing them of what is necessary to provide superior academic experiences for students and research development needed to enhance both students and the state’s economy. Likewise, the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA) President has urged its members to become involved with this legislation, as it is presumed K-12 public school employees will be targeted next.
Still, Mickelson asserts it is important that the state’s institutions can adapt and meet the needs of students and industry, with this ban allowing university administrators more flexibility in meeting such demands. Governor Dennis Daugaard (R), has echoed Mickelson’s concerns, stating his worry that unionization has made it difficult for administrators to retain certain employees and discipline others when needed, and has declared his support of this legislation.
As these bills rapidly move forward, the state’s 1,300 staff members covered by union contracts anxiously await voting results.