North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Weeks 1 & 2

Brothers and Sisters,
Last week the North Dakota Legislature was ramping up its efforts, and things don’t look good for working people across our state. A variety of bills are coming forward. Some threaten the rights of workers and their ability to collectively bargain, while others promise to help poor and working North Dakotans. Sadly we have only a limited ability to fight the former and promote the latter, but we will throw everything we have into the fight.

HB 1139 attempts to fight the NLRB’s recent joint employer ruling which began to hold large corporate franchisors accountable for the rules and conditions which they enforce on their franchisee’s employees. Pushing back on this pro-worker ruling, this bill will make in even harder for workers in companies like McDonalds to organize and collectively bargain for better conditions. Though we spoke passionately against it, the bill passed in the House last week by a considerable margin.

There were also three bills (HB-1048, HB-1093 and HB-1094) put forward by WSI, but presently do nothing against workers and one may make it easier for workers appealing cases to get attorney’s fees paid.

Next week, on the other hand, is going to have some serious worker related issues come up. I urge everyone to watch for them.

HB 1156 deals with the new medical marijuana ballot initiative passed by our citizens in the last election. This bill denies medical marijuana as treatment for injury, but also attempts to also deny lost wages to workers who are on medical marijuana. Though everyone has different feelings about marijuana affecting our workplaces, it is troubling to deny worker’s compensation to working people taking medication as instructed by their doctors. This is being heard at 9:00 am, Monday by the House Committee on Industry, Business and Labor.

HB-1260, 1261 and 1262 are three bills introduced by Marvin Nelson to help workers. HB-1260 simply reverses the law that took away unemployment benefits to locked out workers. This has been an injustice festering in the Century code since it was put in, and the hearing is Tuesday, 10:00 am in the House IBL committee.

HB-1261 gives emergency personnel WSI coverage in cases where they have a heart attack or stroke after an emergency situation and will also offer PTSD treatment for those who have gone through horrific events. We feel this is only just and right and that hearing is Monday, 2:00 pm in House IBL again.

HB-1262 proposes a commission to study the effects of placing WSI under the Insurance Commissioner’s jurisdiction. The idea is that this would have the effect of regulating WSI’s coverage of workers more in line with how the state regulates the rest of the insurance industry. This may provide a needed refocus of our worker’s compensation system, and is being heard immediately after HB-1261.

Lastly though it might not appear so at first glance, I feel that HB-1193 will have the largest negative impact on labor. Though cloaked as a bill to fight the protests that have racked our state the past months, it has the potential to be very damaging to us as Organized Labor. Amongst other items, the bill says the following, “An individual may not commit a physical act constituting the commission of a misdemeanor offense, when done intentionally to cause direct or indirect economic harm in excess of one thousand dollars to the government or to an individual.” In my humble opinion, this could easily be used against many strike and picketing activities… nearly all, in fact. What is a strike but an attempt to put economic stress on a company to bring it to the table. Understand that nearly every labor dispute in US history could fall under this interpretation. Remember our own recent Crystal Sugar Lockout!

I understand that the DAPL protest is an emotional issue, but we can never give up our basic rights and freedoms in any part of our fight because once they have been given up, they will not easily come back. I feel we have to stand strongly against HB-1193.

Don’t hesitate to write or call with questions.

In Solidarity,

Waylon Hedegaard
North Dakota AFL-CIO President