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Abstract

Public employee labor unions in South Dakota possess a feeble set of bargaining rights, so weak it should be considered “collective begging.” However, our recent contract contains significant victories despite decades of playing defense. What lessons can be learned from this experience that might help other similarly situated faculty unions? What does this case study teach us about the disparity of power, especially where labor has fewer legal and political tools than management? I apply DiGiovanni’s (2011) typology of “intangible influences” on collective bargaining to explain our success. As DiGiovanni predicts, history and timing played a large role in influencing the outcome to labor’s advantage. In particular, the state’s rapid transformation of higher education from primarily undergraduate education to invest in research probably brought new participants into the negotiations process. After management imposed a contract, it seems likely that these outsiders pushed for a signed contract. Management was forced to concede on two issues to gain the single tool labor possessed: its signature on a collective bargaining agreement. Contrary to DiGiovanni, unrealistic expectations may have led to a positive labor outcome and an overly-combative labor leader did not prove poisonous.