Since September, I have had the opportunity and pleasure to get out and visit with ND United members across the state.

I leave every conversation with our members, whether on the phone or in person, impressed with and inspired by their laser focus on doing what’s right for the people they serve.  That focus is a testament to the dedication and professionalism of our members and the seriousness with which they take their responsibilities.

The ongoing pandemic has caused anxiety and stress and despite that, NDU members have remained positive and rock-steady because they know that North Dakota depends on them to deliver the vital public services our state needs.

But as dedicated and positive as our members have remained, they have also let me know of the things that are causing them concern.

For public employees, there are still grave concerns regarding the privatization of the services they currently provide and the ongoing reluctance of leaders to fill positions in their agencies.  Not filling positions means that fewer public employees are doing more work with less help.

Job burnout and high turnover will surely increase if action is not taken by agency heads to alleviate these concerns.  Also of great concern is the ongoing effort to end retirement security for future public employees by eliminating the defined benefit retirement plan offered by the ND Public Employee Retirement System.

There are no guarantees that ending the plan for future employees will not negatively impact current public employees.

Our higher education members, whether in support positions, faculty positions, or those conducting important research, have very real concerns about academic freedom, autonomy in the classroom, and funding of our institutions of higher education.

Over the course of many years, higher education has faced uncertainty over funding and attacks from some who do not see higher education for what it is: an economic driver for our state and an engine that drives understanding, diversity, and learning in North Dakota.

For our K-12 teachers and education support professionals, teaching through the pandemic has been a roller coaster.  In separate conversations, a teacher in Williston and one in Fargo each told me in October that it “feels like April.”

They were expressing how long the year was already feeling as a result of the stress they were working under.  They are dealing with increased workloads resulting from the lack of substitute teachers.  They are covering classes for teachers who have to miss school for any number of reasons, including quarantining as close contacts.  This means that they do not have adequate prep time and that just adds to the many things that they must bring home in the evenings and on weekends in order to accomplish.

On top of all that, teachers are concerned that they may find themselves caught in the middle of yet another cultural war around Critical Race Theory.  Even though CRT is not taught in any K-12 school, teachers are rightfully concerned that they will be drawn into the fray by someone or some group who are more intent on dividing us than uniting us.

Clearly, our challenges are many, but working together as a Union, I am confident that we can overcome them.  There is strength in our numbers and power in our commitment.  At North Dakota United, we know you and what you are up against and that is why we are steadfast in our commitment to our members.  Thank you for your awesome work and thank you for your membership in North Dakota United.