HR Management & Compliance

Voters reject changes to South Dakota’s right-to-work law

by Jennifer Suich Frank

On November 8, South Dakota voters rejected Initiated Measure (IM) 23, which would have allowed unions to charge nonmembers reduced “fair share” dues for services like collective bargaining. An overwhelming 79 percent of South Dakotans voted against the measure.

A right-to-work law means employees have the right to work without being required to join a union. Right-to-work laws are aimed at preventing employers and labor unions from excluding nonunion employees or requiring all employees to pay a fee to a union regardless of whether they belong to the union. In essence, IM 23 would have allowed unions to charge nonmembers fees to cover expenses for work from which nonmember employees would purportedly benefit.

The outcome means South Dakota’s long-standing status as a right-to-work state has been preserved, at least for now. Employers are reminded that they cannot mandate that employees join a union or require all employees to pay a fee to a union regardless of whether they belong to the union.

South Dakota is one of 26 right-to-work states, and it was one of the first states to pass a law concerning the right to work. Labor unions in South Dakota can be required to represent all employees in a company or organization, including employees who are not dues-paying members, in collective bargaining. In addition, the law makes clear that unions cannot require all workers to pay dues as a condition of employment.

Proponents of IM 23, such as South Dakotans for Fairness, stated it would correct unfairness in South Dakota law by requiring nonunion members to pay for union services that benefit them. Opponents, including South Dakotans for Freedom and Jobs, said the measure would simply erode South Dakota’s right-to-work law by allowing unions to circumvent it, even though the language did not specifically mention unions. The measure was petitioned onto the ballot by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, also known as the “heavy equipment operators’ union.”

More information on the ballot measure will be available in the December issue of South Dakota Employment Law Letter.

Jennifer Suich Frank  is an editor of South Dakota Employment Law Letter and an attorney with Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C. She can be reached at