North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Week 16

Sisters and brothers,

The end is in sight! Rumor has it that the session will be done on Tuesday…or Wednesday… or Thursday or… well you get the idea.  Yep. The forecast alternates between pipedreams and pessimism, but things have to come together soon because Monday is day 74 out of a maximum of 80 says.

Unfortunately there is a game of chicken going on in the legislature right now. Both sides are holding firm on their positions and jockeying for position hoping the other side will give in. Like two cars plunging towards one another threatening to collide, each refusing to turn off the path first. The strange thing is that in a normal state legislature, these games would be between the Democrats and the Republicans. In North Dakota’s supermajority led legislature, it’s between the House and the Senate.

Now I don’t mean to give the impression that both sides are being unreasonable. In reality, the senate has, for the most part, been far more reasonable and rational. Al Carlson’s House, on the other hand, has not. House Majority Leader, Al Carlson seems to view conference committees with the Senate as hostage negotiations… as in the more hostages one takes, the stronger his hand in negotiations!

So hostages are taken and used as bargaining chips for the House to get its way. What are these hostages? They are important items like the University in Dickinson whose budget is threatened by 40% reduction and the profit sharing for our BCTGM members at the State Mill.

As I have said before, profit sharing is a management tool that was written into law 25 years ago, and the incentives it has created for all workers has made our state-owned mill the best in the nation.

Well, the real issue involves two items in the State Mill budget, the profit sharing and the percentage of profits the state drains into its coffers every biennium. The Senate has been more than reasonable. It wants to keep the profit sharing and take only 50% of the profits because the Mill has a loan to the Bank of North Dakota to pay off and needs more of the profits to do this and other improvements. The House, on the other hand, demands 90% of the profits, and they’re using the profit sharing as a bargaining chip to get it.

The senators on the committee, in an effort to be reasonable, have even offered 65% of the profits, but over the last week, the house has refused to budge. Either give up 90% of the mill’s profits or risk losing the profit sharing for the workers. Period!

This position is incredibly unfair because the House is holding the mill workers’ lives and livelihoods hostage to get their way in committee. Understand that these workers have done their best to make the mill as profitable as possible, yet now they are nothing more than a bargaining chip to force the Senate to bend? Is this fair? Is this the state of North Dakota politics?

Apparently so.

Our workers deserve better! They are not pawns to be moved around the board to gain some advantage for Al Carlson. They are human beings doing their best to make certain that their plant is as efficient and profitable as possible. They deserve to keep what they have, and the state of North Dakota deserves to keep what works.

I would like to thank the Senators on the committee. Some of them may not agree with us on other Labor related values, but they are standing firm here. Thank you Senators Sorvaag, Hogue and our long time friend, Tim Mathern. Thanks also to Representative Lois Delmore who has said on more than one occasion that she will sit on that committee until the bitter end before she votes to take back profit sharing.

Needless to say, Representatives Brandenburg and Kempenich have not been as accommodating.

This is intolerable! Please click the link below and write you representatives a quick email to let them know how you feel about using our member’s livelihoods as bargaining chips.

As for our public employees, it’s even crazier. On one hand, they are celebrating the success of teacher loan forgiveness and fighting another guns in schools & public buildings bill. Go NDU!

But on the other? Well, lawmakers do hope to wrap up the session on Tuesday, but an amendment offered to HB 1023 today may help push that date back. And SB 2003, the Higher Education budget, also remains stalled in conference committee. Hold on tight because the end of the session, whenever it comes, should contain some fireworks. The finish line is in site, but it may be a bit of a mirage!

I urge everyone to read NDU’s own update. It is well worth it.

The truth is that no one knows what is going to happen this week, and it all depends on how far the House is going to with its demands for control. Are they willing to completely collide with the senate on day 80, constitutionally the absolute last day of the session? Maybe.

At the very least, it should be an interesting week.

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