Welcome to the 2020 ND United Virtual Delegate Assembly.

Normally, I begin the ND United Delegate Assembly with a rousing State of Our Union address.  Well, this year has been anything but normal, but it remains my hope that my remarks today give you an accurate understanding of the state of our union and a vision of what we may experience in the year ahead.

When I became President of North Dakota United, I spoke of my desire to make our union a transformational organization.  I wanted, and still want, this organization to be a driving force that will positively impact not just the lives of our members, but the lives of all those we serve in North Dakota.

To that end, I recommended, and your ND United Board of Directors adopted three guiding and strategic principles around which our work has focused:

  • The first is to increase membership. – If you are a member driven organization like ND United, more is better!
  • Second, we need to increase the activism of our members- More members + more action = more influence.
  • Finally, we need to increase the size of our government relations footprint. -Every single decision that affects your work life is a political decision made in Washington, DC or Bismarck, ND. We must be at the table when those decisions are being discussed.

With this guidance, our truly talented staff has worked very hard to put the Board’s vision into action.

 

So how are we doing?  At the risk of sounding immodest, we are doing pretty darn well.

  • In the last year, we have grown our active membership by 135.
  • Fun fact, of the 51 NEA state and federal affiliates, ND was one of only twenty that grew its active membership in the past year.
  • Not only have we grown our ranks, our members-many of whom are in this meeting right now-have responded to our calls to act on behalf of themselves and their colleagues. As an example, last legislative session, we Hustled our members to contact House Education Committee members to oppose a truly terrible bill removing the employment rights of probationary teachers and increasing the probationary status of teachers to three years.  So many of our members responded that the chairman of the committee pulled the bill from the agenda and postponed a vote on the bill for another day. Your activism matters!
  • In many ways we have increased our influence in the state legislature, in state agencies, and the governor’s office.
    • We have become the go-to stakeholder group at DPI, working with Supt. Baesler and her staff on a variety of issues.
    • I was appointed to the K-12 Coordination Council ensuring that teachers’ concerns are heard on this important Council charged with implementing the statewide strategic vision for K-12 education.
    • We collaborated with Jodie Smith at the ND Land Board to make sure that the royalties owed to the Common Schools Trust Fund by several oil companies were paid.
    • Just last week, I met with Chancellor Hagerott to discuss the concerns of our Higher Ed members relating to funding and safely reopening our vital university campuses.
    • We have met with the Governor’s staff to discuss the impact of Coronavirus on anticipated revenue and to express our deep concern that any budgets are not balanced on the backs of our dedicated public employees.
    • And of course, just recently, we shared our members’ sentiments regarding the reopening of schools in May with the governor’s staff, with DPI, and with the K-12 Coordination Council. Was that effective?  Hell yeah, that was effective!  Thanks to our members’ actions, teachers and children are not being exposed unnecessarily to the scourge of the Coronavirus.

Financially, ND United has never been more sound.  As you saw at Wednesday night’s meeting, ND United’s financial health is excellent, with reserve funds capable of covering any unexpected expenditures that we may have.

This unprecedented financial health did not happen by accident.  It came about because of careful planning and strategic decision making related to hiring.  I must thank NDU’s outstanding Chief Financial Officer, Gary Rath, and our equally talented Executive Director, Chad Oban, for their careful attention to detail and willingness to think innovatively about our budget.

This conservative budgeting and strategic decision making have allowed ND United to keep membership dues low.  Later today, you will be asked to approve NDU’s two year budget put before you by the ND United Board of Directors.  The proposed Budget will allow ND United to continue to provide vital member services and allow us to continue to shape ND United into the transformational organization I know we can be.

Speaking of being transformational, allow me to briefly tell you about how ND United is working with other organizations across the state to improve the lives of people in our communities.

  • NDU Member Jason Boynton, from our NDSU chapter, spearheaded a drive to pay down student lunch debt. Not only is Jason a brilliant mathematics professor, he is also a talented musician.  Using his talents with an assist from ND United, Jason helped to raise upwards of $30K to reduce lunch debt.  More importantly, his passion sparked public interest in the issue of food insecurity in North Dakota and informed our decision to include its mitigation in our initial legislative agenda.
  • ND United is a charter member of The Alliance for a Better North Dakota. This organization is dedicated to creating an infrastructure that supports groups and projects that promote communication, civic engagement, and participation in our democracy, regardless of political affiliation.
  • I worked with the ND ACLU, ND AFL-CIO, Housing Advocates, and others to urge Governor Burgum to impose a moratorium on evictions as well as late fees, and to halt reporting people who are late on their rent to credit reporting agencies. People who were thrown out of work through no fault of their own need to be granted as much grace as possible in these difficult times.
  • I have represented ND United in a coalition of organizations including the ND Farmers Union, Food Security advocates, the FM Coalition to End Homelessness, The ND AFL-CIO, and other ND advocacy groups who came together to make sure that the voices of working families are heard as our state considers its next steps in restarting our economy.

It is vitally important for groups like ND United to step up and speak up for those whose voices traditionally have not been heard.  If this insidious virus has done anything, it has exposed significant tears in our social safety net.  With 40% of Americans working low wage jobs and nearly 40% of Americans unable to absorb a $400 unexpected expense – and those are PRE-Coronavirus statistics – it is imperative that organizations of influence, like ND United, share their concerns in the corridors of power.  We refer to many of these folks as “Essential Workers, “and they are.  But they are more than that.  These are the parents of our students and the recipients of the high-quality public services provided by our members.

 

You know who else is essential?  YOU ARE!  You are the public employees that bind our society together.  Whether you are an auditor, a counselor, a researcher, a school teacher, an education support professional, or someone who plows our roads, YOU are providing the remarkable public services that the citizens of North Dakota have come to realize are essential to their quality of lives!  You are the most resilient and flexible sector of the economy.

  • Think about this for a second: What other sector of our society has acted so quickly and adjust so radically to our new normal?  Teachers and university professors had to quickly plan and implement distance learning protocols on the fly and have created a structure that is the envy of the nation.
  • Public employees saw their offices close and they, too, had to create systems to continue their important work from their homes. It was not easy, but they did it!  And did it effectively, too!  Their public service did not miss a beat and the citizens of our state are better for it.
  • And you all made this amazing transition without complaining about it. Because you and I both know that complaining is not a plan. You did it because you have an unyielding commitment to excellence.  Excellence in teaching.  Excellence in research. Excellence in providing the best service possible to our neighbors and communities in North Dakota.
  • And you did it all without a huge federal subsidy.

Now, none of us knows just how this pandemic is going to play out.  It may be with us for another year or maybe longer.  We do know that the effects will linger for years.  But we will get through this.  We know that over the horizon, things will be better.  And they will be better because of people like you who care enough about our collective future to act now

  • so that when we DO get to the other side of this, essential workers will be paid like essential workers should be paid.
  • So that dedicated and hard-working public servants will be compensated and appreciated like the professionals they are.
  • So that our state is more just, more fair, and more responsive to the needs of all sectors of our society.

Your membership in North Dakota United is essential if we are to transform our state.

Your activism is essential if we are going to lift up our state.

Your voice is essential if we are going to make a lasting impression on our state and our nation.

Yes, the state of our union is strong.  And because of our members, and their unshakable will, we will become even stronger.   And that is not just good for NDU that is good for all of North Dakota.