North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Week 14

Brothers and sisters,

It’s week 14 of the North Dakota State Legislature and I have two important asks of you. Please click on the links below to tell our legislature that working people need to be taken seriously.

So… Just when I thought everything is coasting to the end, I get a call from John Riskey, president of BCTGM local 167g. It turns out that the legislature leveled a last minute blow at our union employees at the North Dakota State Mill and Elevator. For decades, these employees have had a profit sharing agreement with the mill as an incentive to make the mill stronger and more profitable. In fact, giving the employees a small stake in the profits of the mill resulted in this mill being the most efficient and profitable grain mill in the nation. It’s amazing what happens when businesses listen to the workers most familiar with the operation of the plant and give them incentives to make it better. There is no doubt that this agreement has been a win/win for the state and the employees. Everyone has benefited.

Unfortunately, now that the mill is running at peak efficiency and making a windfall for the state, some members of the legislature want to renege on that deal.  They want to strip the employees of the long standing past practice of profit sharing resulting in State Mill employees receiving about a 13% pay cut.

This is unacceptable! No matter how you look at it, it’s shortsighted, an example of poor planning and detrimental to the long-term interests of the state.

Luckily, more rational voices are trying to prevail. The state mill is popular across the political divide and several Representatives and Senators from both sides of the aisle objected to this amendment. This will be going to conference committee and I urge everyone to click on the link below and let the committee know that the burden of maintaining tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy should not fall on the necks of workers who have done their utmost to make their plants profitable.

Staying true to form, the House of Representatives also seems intent on stacking the deck against the working people of North Dakota in other ways. I’ve mentioned this in previous updates that SB-2135 creates a commission to study our ballot initiative process. While the Senate version certainly wasn’t perfect, the commission it would create is more balanced and workable and had a guaranteed representative from Labor. This is all we asked for. Give working people a voice on the commission.

However, it seems that Representatives Ben Koppelman and Chris Olson don’t agree with this. They not only stripped out the working people's position, they also eliminated the position reserved for the Tribal Nations. At the same time, they allow the Chamber of Commerce a position claiming that they are (somehow) a neutral organization, while Labor shouldn't have a place because we’re biased! Think on this! They want to deny working people a position because they claim that we would unbalance the commission but then claim that the Chamber of Commerce would not!

In fact in private conversations, they claimed that technically the Chamber “represents” more workers than Labor unions do! The Chamber does not represent workers. It represents businesses, and it represents those businesses often against the interests of its employees. Also understand that both the Farmers Union and Farm Bureau both have guaranteed positions on the commission, so we are in an odd position that nearly every farmer in the state is well represented but no one who works for wages has a guaranteed place! I simply cannot comprehend their reasoning.

As I claimed earlier, their version would allow the governor to stack the deck with select “citizens” to make the study of the ballot initiative say whatever they want it to say.

This is a serious issue because North Dakota’s Ballot initiative system is the best in the nation, and North Dakota citizens have more rights to initiate and vote on their own laws than any other state. In fact this right is enshrined in our state constitution and is sacred to us… but now certain legislators want to “study” that right and see what they can do to change it, and they seem to be aiming at stack the deck ideologically to do so.

I do want to thank the other members of this committee for standing up for working people and tribal nations. Thank you to Senators Poolman, Hogue and Marcellais and Representative Pam Anderson. They understand what a balanced committee really looks like.

So if you haven’t yet, we ask everyone, Union or not yet union, to click the link below and write your senator and representatives and let them know that the one-sided commission put forth by Koppelman and Olson is unacceptable.

And for are embattled public employees, we are in the last days of the 65th Legislative Assembly, known as the Third Period, and that means multiple daily conference committees as members of the House meet members of the Senate to attempt to hash out differences on bills. There’s been a whirlwind of activity here 

Budget issues continue to be the order of the day, and so perhaps it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that Governor Burgum sent out a letter to state agencies this week offering what he calls a “Voluntary Separation Incentive Program.”

Under this program, employees have three options if they accept the offer. They include receiving a lump sum of three months’ pay and benefits, spreading that out over three months or receiving a year of paid health insurance. Each participating agency will need to find money in its budget for the program that ends May 22. Let’s be honest. This is a pittance that is unlikely to entice anyone to voluntarily leave his or her job.

Over the last decade, we have cut oil and corporate taxes to the bone, yet this is how they plan on making up the shortfall?  Sad really

Please read more about the efforts our affiliates are undertaking to protect their members.

And please take action in the links above.

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