North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Week 13

Brothers and sisters,

This will be a short update as the session is coming to a close and many of those items we have been watching have either passed through or died.

As I talked about last week, SB-2135 is a bill to study the ballot initiative system with the stated purpose of making it better. Unfortunately for several in the legislature, making it better means increasing their own power to control laws by stripping away yours. North Dakota’s citizen-led, ballot-initiative system is the best in the nation and don’t let the legislature tell you differently.

Yet last week, Representative Ben Koppleman severely amended a long-argued balance on this bill’s study commission replacing the voting power of several different groups with governor appointed citizens instead. He stripped out any inclusion of Organized Labor and made the rest of the organizations non-voting. This is important for us because many of these organizations, even those that oppose us, don’t want any major changes to the ballot initiative system. This is one thing we can all agree on. We have a good system. Don’t screw with it.

The mood of a few legislators was clearly different as shown in the hearings.

The interesting thing about this bill and its amendments is this. The organizations that are allowed on the commission as nonvoting members are the Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, The Newspapers Association and The Chamber of Commerce. They can be there but they don’t get a vote. But apparently, there was worry that these same organizations may try to pack the commission so another amendment was added that forbids any member of these organizations from receiving one of the seven governor appointed positions.

This is ironic because both Farm Bureau and Farmers Union have large insurance companies that give membership to their organizations to all their insurance customers. So by forbidding any of these members from being appointed to a voting position on this commission, this bill excludes over a hundred thousand North Dakota citizens from serving including nearly every farmer in the state.

In an agricultural state, they just forbid farmers from having a real say in this incredibly important study! The nerve! … And the governor would have the ability to pack that study in such a way that it would say anything he wanted it to. 

There is going to be fight over this as it heads into conference committee as the Senate and the House versions are completely different.

Let’s talk about our teacher’s and public employees. Though they did win some solid victories including the education innovation measure, they still have some major fights ahead.

HB-1426, for instance, would change the public employee’s insurance system to a self-insured plan. The question is whether this could be done without altering or jeopardizing the coverage our public employees currently have and many feel that it is too big of a jump to do without studying the issue first.

In addition, there is a huge amount of work to do in the funding of our colleges and universities. Organizations looking at 25% reductions in their budgets are facing some serious hardships 

On the national front, we still face the continuing train wreck of the Trump presidency. I understand that several of our affiliate members supported President Trump, but I wouldn’t be doing my job not pointing out the crisis we are heading into with his administration and appointments.

For instance, take Judge Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat. He would be the worst justice on the court in regards to workers rights and safety.  He once wrote a mocking dissent opinion on the firing of a worker who tried to protect his own health.  In subzero weather and after waiting in an unheated truck cab for hours, this trucker unhitched a stuck trailer and drove to safety before he froze to death. While the rest of the court ruled the trucker had every right to save his life, Gorsuch disagreed and argued that the trucker should have been fired for disobeying company orders. He even mocked the idea of taking the safety and health of workers into question in this decision.

Having taught safety for years and preached that workers have a right to refuse to do work that is dangerous, this is a terrible ruling. On the Supreme Court, these kinds of rulings have huge impacts in how workers are treated, and this would seriously damage our rights to a safe and healthy workplace.

Let me also speak against the idea that we need to get rid of regulation. This idea always sounds good to many. “We have too many rules. If we just get rid of them, things would work better.” Unfortunately these rules that they are discussing are the rules that keep us safe at work and the ones that make Union Labor possible. These are the rules that stop people from strip-mining your pension to make themselves rich like happened in the housing crisis.

There are a lot of countries that don’t have many regulations. We used to call them third world countries.

The idea that we need to get rid of two rules for every one we put in place is childish! Remember that many of the rules and regulation are there to protect you, and they are the only things that do.

Understand, I’m all for careful regulatory reform, but it must be done very thoughtfully and wisely or we will all end up poorer and weaker… And the “take two away to get one idea” is just dumb!

Let’s be careful out there, brothers and sisters. It’s becoming a dangerous world.

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