House passes bill to prohibit collective bargaining at state universities
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House passes bill to prohibit collective bargaining at state universities

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The O’Harra Administration Building on the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus in Rapid City.

PIERRE | One of the two bills making their way through the Legislature that would prohibit collecting bargaining by employees of the institutions run by the Board of Regents was approved Tuesday afternoon by the S.D. House of Representatives. 

By banning collective bargaining, SB147 would make the state’s universities flexible and adaptive, according to Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, who noted that collective bargaining is not allowed at the state universities in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

“All those states have world-class universities,” Hansen said. 

Faculty members at Black Hills State University and South Dakota School of Mines & Technology said the legislation sends the wrong message to educators.

John Van Benthuysen, an assistant professor of political science at Black Hills State University, said the legislation will be a blow to university faculty morale, "which has never been too high in a state like South Dakota."

"This is basically stripping us of our right to organize amongst ourselves and to assemble," Van Benthuysen said. "This is odd in a democracy, because we pride ourselves on having all kinds of groups organize. (These bills) seem to violate a basic principle of living in a free society."

William Cross, a professor of materials and metallurgical engineering at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and the chair of faculty Senate at the Rapid City college, said universities will have a harder time finding and recruiting good faculty members if the legislation is signed into law.

"One of the things (the state) could do is go after the tenure system," Cross said. "It would not surprise me if that would happen. Without the tenure system, they could just go ahead and fire me for no reason."

Speaking against the bill in the Legislature was Rep. Ray Ring, D-Vermillion, a retired professor of economics.

“Our universities are doing well and have been doing well for 40 years under collective bargaining,” Ring said.

The states Hansen listed have great universities, Ring said, because they have more state resources. Those states “particularly support higher education,” Ring said. “Collective bargaining has worked in South Dakota.”

Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, said he was accustomed to having union members working for the mine in his town. Workers need someone to represent them, Johns said. 

“I don’t see where South Dakota is going to benefit,” Johns said of passage of SB147.

Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, said it costs the Board of Regents $285,000 in human resources, legal and travel costs to develop a new university contract. 

“No one’s disputed those costs,” Bartels said. 

If professors fail to provide an education for their students, Hansen said, they should be let go and not subject to the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. 

“That’s what’s best for our taxpayers,” Hansen said. “That’s what’s best for our universities.” 

The bill was endorsed by the House on a vote of 47-19. It has already been approved by the Senate. HB1266, a similar bill for banning collective bargaining, has been approved by the House and is up for consideration in the Senate. If both bills pass, it’s likely a committee will be appointed to work out the differences in the bills so that only one would be presented to the governor.

The South Dakota Board of Regents released a statement saying they won't take a position on either bill.

Rapid City Journal reporter Morgan Matzen contributed to this story.

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