The South Dakota Department of Labor sent officials to Aberdeen Friday to meet with the 260 workers laid off by the state-boosted and bankrupt Northern Beef Packers slaughterhouse. It didn't go well:

Northern Beef Packers still owes hundreds of workers back wages. Some of those former employees say they're behind on bills and need that money now.

But state officials say there's little they can do at this point. Still, they're trying to help those workers in any way they can.

..."When are you going to get your back wages? I cannot tell you; I do not know," South Dakota Department of Labor’s Bill Molseed said.

Officials say the state could take action if Northern Beef Packers hadn't already filed for bankruptcy protection. Since it has, the issue is now tied up in the courts [Erich Schaffhauser, "Beef Plant Workers Meet with Dept. of Labor,", 2013.07.26].

Indeed, with 277 creditors lined up for their due, many of them with bigger money at stake and bigger lawyers ready to make their argument in bankruptcy court, stiffed workers struggling to make rent face a hard battle to get paid for the work they've done.

If those workers have any savings left, they could move to Sioux Falls and work at Costco. They could give South Dakota native and beef entrepreneur Keith DeHaan a call and invite him to bring his ambitions to Aberdeen, buy NBP, and put them all back to work. (Scottsbluff, Nebraska said no to a new slaughterhouse; Aberdeen, here's your chance!)

Or they could turn the Attorney General of the State of South Dakota and say, "Pierre created this mess; Pierre can help us out of it." So says Libertarian blogger Ken Santema: is best for the State to provide emergency support for these families. This would not be a case of welfare or government intervention, it is a case of the State stepping in to help band-aid a situation it created. Apparently the State of South Dakota has a surplus of $24.2 million when the fiscal year ended last month. Part of that money could be used as short-term relief for these families until NBP is forced to pay its workers. If that means creating a special session of the legislature I would say that is OK. Right now what is important is to help these families, and determine later how to prevent such situation in the future [Ken Santema, "The State of South Dakota must help correct the situation it created at Northern Beef Packers," SoDakLiberty, 2013.07.29].

Here's another situation where we Democrats can find common cause with conservatives disillusioned with the South Dakota GOP and its failure of principles. The state made Northern Beef Packers possible with the EB-5 green-card-buying program and some loan legerdemain. NBP has harmed its workers and its community. The state should step in to rectify that harm. Let me enhance Santema's call for state action with a specific plan:

  1. Allocate whatever chunk of the budget surplus is necessary to pay all affected workers their back wages. We acted fast to help M. Michael Rounds and his well-heeled neighbors and golfing buddies who built big houses in a flood plain; we can act just as fast, without a special session, to help working people whose only error was going to work for a slaughterhouse with bad management and cash flow.
  2. Seize the Northern Beef Packers property by eminent domain. NBP screwed up; the property is sitting idle. The state should take the property, sell it, and replenish the funds used for worker aid with the proceeds. Perhaps better yet, the state should get back into business: nationalize NBP (or is it state-alize?), hire back all the workers, and run the plant the way we ran the State Cement Plant for eight decades.
  3. Invoke extraordinary rendition to bundle the NBP money handlers off to South Korea, where they can explain themselves to their investors and the Korean legal system.

The state bears a share of responsibility for the economic disaster that has befallen 260 Aberdeen workers. Instead of sending Department of Labor bureaucrats to hand out forms and say their hands are tied, it's time for Pierre to own its mistakes and help these workers.