North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Week 4

Brothers and sisters,

It’s hard for me to believe that we are done with four weeks of this session, and a big week it was. Admittedly, we have too few allies to have any direct control of events, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put some serious pressure on those legislators who vote against working people. Be certain to pay attention to future actions where we ask you to email your legislators. This can make a real difference.

Tuesday was our biggest day when House Bills 1400, 1401 and 1405 all came up the same day in the House Industry, Business and Labor committee (IBL). By the end of this session, it’s likely that those committee members are going to be tired of seeing my face, nevertheless….

HB 1400 was a process that would encourage companies who do business with the state to pay men and women equally for the same work. This was found unworkable and the sponsor, Representative Mary Schneider, asked for a “do not pass” as she found she could achieve most of the same result working through the Attorney General’s office.

HB 1405, on the other hand, would have added duties to the Governor’s Commission on Women to study the reasons for the differences in pay between men and women and suggest solutions to these inequities. Unions have always stood with the idea that equal work demands equal pay, and we support HB 1405. This is also an area where unions such as the Building Trades and manufacturing can gain attention as they have positions where women can significantly improve their wages. I have been promoting this idea along with the Building Trades and the Women’s Network whenever I can.

This nearly got shot down when a few committee members didn’t think it was an issue that women make 73% of what a men do. Rick Becker even made the point that being unequal wasn’t a bad thing at all. The bill got stripped down but the commission is going to be ordered to report every year and the governor’s office has taken quite an interest in this idea, so I think it will work out.

HB 1401 is our big one and would have allowed collective bargaining for our police and firefighters for the first time. This is only common decency and sense. Those people held responsible for saving our loved ones from burning buildings and facing down armed assailants should be considered responsible enough to collectively bargain for their own interests.

Mary Schneider gave a great introduction and Ron Guggisberg, a firefighter himself, testified well for the bill. In fact, several of us testified in favor of HB 1401 including LIUNA, NDU, a few other firefighters and myself. No police were there as this was held at the same time as the funeral of Deputy Allery who was killed last week. Any officer not on duty was at the funeral.

The testimony for this bill was completely positive and no one testified against it. Nevertheless, the committee returned when no one else was there, had about 30 seconds of discussion and then voted it down.

Committee members who voted “do pass” were Representatives Boschee and Dobervich. Those who voted “do not pass” were Ruby, O’Brien, Keiser, Beadle, Sukut, Becker, Bosch, Johnson, Kasper, Laning, Lefor and Louser. These representatives decided that supporting our emergency responders would cost too much

This is not over. HB 1401 has not gone to the house floor yet, and the best guess is it will on Tuesday or Wednesday. I am urging anyone and everyone to write their legislators. The link below will find your legislator and open up a message for you to tell them that you think emergency responders should be allowed to collectively bargain. Please use this to put pressure on them.

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/support-nd-emergency-responders-rights

The craziest bill of the week goes to HB 1248. This relates to Prosperity Compacts. This monster could add 61 pages to our century code and allow individuals or groups who own at least a square mile of land to form “Prosperity Zones”. Within these zones there would be very little regulation, therefore the sponsor claimed that industry and business would thrive. Unfortunately without regulation, workers would have no safety coverage, no workers comp, no pollution or air quality or any other regulation that keeps workers healthy in their jobs or their families healthy at home. Without a doubt, this would be a nightmare.

Though the stated purpose is to encourage businesses to grow, without regulation or government interference, I can see prosperity zones attracting an entirely different group of people. With limited regulation they’d soon become vast marijuana fields, meth labs and white supremacist enclaves.  Craig Cobb would love HB 1248.

Next week, we have three big bills coming up and will need help with them.

First up is HB 1263 which raises the state’s minimum wage to $9.25. Though low wage workers get poorer every year, this will meet a huge amount of opposition from the IBL committee. We certainly could use some support on this so if anyone is not busy Tuesday morning at 9:30, come to the Brynhild Haugland room at the capital.

Second is HB 1386 which prohibits firing workers and denying them housing or public accommodation for being LGBT. No one should ever be fired for who they are, and we fully support this bill. I also ask people to pack the room and show our support for this issue. This one will be held at 8:00 Wednesday with place to be determined.

To end the week, SB 2336 limits how initiated measures can be paid for and dramatically complicates the reporting requirements. This is an absolutely unnecessary restriction on the people’s right to initiate measures.  The AFL-CIO stands firmly against any change to our initiated and referred measure laws. We believe that power should rest in the people and stand against as a check against the legislature when they aren’t doing what we want them to.

We may not win many battles this session, but we are going to try our best, and we are certainly going to do everything we can to make legislators uncomfortable when they vote against working people.

Waylon Hedegaard