North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - 2017 Summary

Sisters and brothers,

It is over! The legislature has finally left our fair capital, and we can all go back to some semblance of normal. Of course, we are now left to pick up the pieces and to find our way through the damage left in their wake with slashed budgets, reduced services and a higher education system on a starvation diet. But at the very least, no more damage can be done. We know where we are and we can plan our way forward.

First, let’s start with our public employees. Our affiliate, NDU, has been fighting for their members with everything they have, and in truth, they have undergone the brunt of the attacks due to the budget crisis that the majority party’s leadership has forced us into. This week they and their allies in the legislature fought the final battles involving massive cuts to public services and higher education. While no one came out unscathed, I salute NDU’s commitment to the good of this state. They have done very well under incredible pressure.

Both the University System budget and the PERS budget finally passed both houses on the final days, but not before things got interesting. Fortunately, compromises were reached on PERS late Wednesday that breached the legislative log jam—thus setting into the motion the end of the session in its 77th day.

I would do poor service to the truth by explaining the intricacies here so I urge you to read NDU’s own update. It’s fascinating stuff.

This week also saw a win for working people in protecting profit sharing for our State Mill employees. After 14 conference committee meetings (Yes, it really was 14 different meetings, some a whopping three minutes long.) the House finally agreed to take this out of the bill. The Senate was forced to change the share of mill profits that goes into state coffers from 50 to 75%, but profit sharing for our people stays for now.

However, they did insert a study to look at profit sharing in the future. So with the idea firmly planted in their heads that we should always try to fix what isn’t broken, we head towards the next session. Be assured that this battle will take centerstage again, so be prepared to take action. This will be one interim committee that I will not be missing.

Here is a better summary of what happened with the profit sharing.

I need to spend some time on how I thought the session went. In the last four months there have been so many trees that I think we all need to step back and really look at the forest.

In short, the session went way better than I expected, and no I’m not crazy! In this worker-unfriendly legislature, we (Labor and our allies) certainly lost many fights, but we won several too. In addition, we stopped the worst of the bills from being passed or we trimmed off the worst aspects of the bills that did pass. In addition, we saw unprecedented numbers of working people taking action, getting involved in the process and making their voices heard.

In the 65th Legislature, this is a victory!

The anti-protestor bills that came out in response to the DAPL protests are a good example. Though a few bills did pass, they are only a shadow of the terrible legislation that was originally put forward. So many of these would have had terrible consequences for Labor and our basic freedoms. Though some of the bills that did pass are not good, the worst of the awfulness was stripped out, and we should acknowledge that.

Though Labor and it’s allies lost bills regarding a higher minimum wage, collective bargaining for safety personnel, gaining better WSI protection for volunteer emergency personnel, nondiscrimination legislation and more, we also won some. We defeated massive changes to both our unemployment and WSI systems that would have seriously harmed workers. We defeated a bill that would have created regulation-free zones, damaging workers rights across the state. We won a spot for labor representation on a ballot initiative study, and working together, we reduced an atrocious asbestos liability-limiting bill to something that might actually make it better for workers to gain settlements. And let’s not forget protecting the profit sharing.

For all of this, I need to thank the other Labor leaders for doing an outstanding job. The incomparable Renee Pfenning with the IBEW caught several items I had missed. Jason Ehlert with the Building Trades has always been there when we needed him. The entire crew at NDU, Particularly President Archuleta and Exec. Director Chad Oban have been excellent!  Oh, there are many others who helped too.

My thanks also go out to our allies outside labor. Kayla Pulvermacher with Farmers Union has been outstanding. Renee Stromme with the North Dakota Women’s Network has forever been available. Mike Chaussee with the AARP… and a dozen others have helped me greatly. This would have been nearly impossible without them.

I would be remiss not to thank the worker-friendly legislators who stood by us through difficult battles. It’s not easy to throw oneself into the fray time and time again. They are too many to mention, but my thanks go out to you all. You know who you are. We just need way more of you!

And finally, my thanks go to all those who took action this session. Writing emails, calling your legislators and talking to them in person made a huge difference on multiple bills this session. Those of you who helped on this understand what unionism truly means, and if people really want to know what democracy looks like, here it is. Thank you for being active and engaged in the process. You made a difference.

To wrap the session up, I want to talk about the following:

Understand that there are many good legislators from both parties. There are some who may not agree with Labor 100%, but they remain rational and thoughtful people who truly aim to make the world better. I salute them! They are what public servants really should be: open, intelligent and reasonable to other ideas.

And then there are the others, the Al Carlsons, the Rick Beckers and the Ben Koppelmans: The first is a vengeful authoritarian out to control the legislature no matter the cost. The second is a wealthy and rigid ideologue who aims to recreate our society in what he considers is his own image, and the last is a micromanager of democracy who insists that only his version of legislation can possibly be accepted.

After being at the Capitol for four months, one quickly begins to realize that there are some legislators who are never going to support even the most reasonable of legislation… for education, for working people or for basic human decency. In many cases, we need to know that to make any real change, we need to change some members of that legislature.

The election of 2018 will be upon us before we know it, and we all have to realize that if we want to make substantial differences for working people in this state, we are going to have to move mountains to get more worker-friendly people elected.

So get your shovels. Be prepared. We will need your to help move that mountain.

Once again,

Thank you so much to all the experienced folks up at the Capitol who gave me good direction, and the many, many working North Dakotans who put the wind in my sails every day go to up to that Capitol and fight for a better, safer, more worker-friendly North Dakota.

Waylon Hedegaard
President/Secretary Treasurer
North Dakota AFL-CIO
(701) 595-3334