PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A coalition of business groups recently launched a campaign against a labor-backed ballot measure going before voters in November, arguing that the plan would allow unions to circumvent South Dakota's right-to-work law.
Supporters of Initiated Measure 23, which would give corporate or nonprofit organizations the right to charge fees for services provided, said the ballot measure corrects unfairness in state law. Opponents say people shouldn't be forced to make payments to a union as a condition of a job.
"It's designed to force people who choose not to belong to unions to pay them fees anyway," said opponent David Owen, president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "We think that's an end-run around right-to-work, and we don't think that's right."
Current South Dakota law says that a person's right to work can't be curtailed because of membership or non-membership in a labor union. It also prohibits requiring the payment of fees in lieu of union membership as a condition of employment.
Secretary of State Shantel Krebs determined that supporters turned in 14,861 valid signatures, which exceeded the 13,871-signature requirement to get on the ballot.
The proposed measure would allow a labor union that has a collective bargaining agreement with an employer to charge fees to non-union members covered under the contract for services such as representation during the grievance process, said Mark Anderson, president and financial secretary of the South Dakota State Federation of Labor.
The ballot measure reads: "Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, an organization, corporate or nonprofit, has the right to charge a fee for any service provided by the organization."
The measure doesn't refer specifically to unions because it's meant to apply to everyone who provides a service, said Marc Poulos, director of Americans for Fairness, a group based in Illinois that's supporting the initiative.
The proposal would improve fairness because it would simply require that non-members pay for services that benefit them, said supporter Jason George, special projects director at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, which is the main backer of the measure and has members in the Dakotas and Minnesota.
"You still don't have to be a member," George said. "You're just going to have to pay for what you get."
George said he isn't familiar with any such ballot measures being pursued in other states. If the plan is successful in South Dakota, "we'd definitely want to move elsewhere and do the same thing," Poulos said.
Twenty-five states have right-to-work laws that say workers cannot be compelled to become members of unions as a condition of employment. Among South Dakota's neighbors, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Iowa are right-to-work states while Montana and Minnesota are not, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Supporters of the South Dakota ballot initiative have raised about $250,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 and Americans for Fairness as of the latest campaign finance disclosure deadline. The opposition camp hopes to raise roughly $250,000 to fund mailers and a paid media presence including television, Owen said.
If approved by a simple majority in the November election, the measure would go into effect in 2017.
This version of the story corrects the reference to the National Conference of State Legislatures.