Union official lashes out at Attorney General Swansonby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota's largest state employee union continued the war of words between it and Attorney General Lori Swanson Friday. The two sides are at odds over whether Swanson pressured attorneys in her office against forming a union.
St. Paul, Minn. — The ongoing furor between the state's chief attorney and the state's largest union aired publicly Thursday.
Attorney General Lori Swanson accused union representatives of threatening to place negative stories about her in the press and on Internet blogs if she didn't support a union for the attorneys.
The head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Council 5 said it was forced to respond to Swanson's attacks.
"We don't bully or blog, we fight for workers," said AFSCME's Executive Director, Elliot Seide.
"We never threatened to go to the media; the media came to us. We gave Brian Bergson, our liaison to the attorney general, a heads up about the media inquiries about working conditions in their office," Seide said. "Last Friday, we asked to meet with the attorney general to discuss the concerns before responding to the media. That meeting still has not happened."
AFSCME representatives say they first met with Swanson to talk about unionizing the attorneys earlier this year. They said attorneys called them six weeks ago about forming a union and about problems in the office.
Seide would not detail those problems because he said attorneys in the office fear for their jobs. The union accuses Swanson of firing an attorney in the office who tried to organize.
It also accuses Swanson of intimidating other attorneys in the office to discourage them from doing the same.
Swanson released only a written statement in response. She says Seide wants her to designate AFSCME to represent the attorneys because the union endorsed her candidacy. She said that while there have been attempts to organize under her predecessors Skip Humphrey and Mike Hatch, she said she does not believe that Seide ever threatened them.
On Thursday, Swanson said it's not her decision on whether the attorneys could form a union.
"I indicated to the union that I thought that whether a union was formed, or under what terms, was really an issue for the employees," Swanson said. "It's not up to the employer or the management of the office to decide who's going to represent employees or under what terms. And that's what I indicated."
The attorneys want to form a union for the purposes of discussions with their supervisors. The union acknowledges, however, that state law does not allow them to form a union as a collective bargaining unit in negotiating contracts.
AFSCME endorsed Swanson when she ran for Attorney General last fall. Seide says he's "disgusted" that his union supported her.
"I believe she ought to walk her talk. She said she supports the rights of unions to organize. She ought to tell her employees she supports their right to organize, there ought to be an environment free from intimidation and fear. That's what we're asking for in here," said Seide.
Seide said he also would like Swanson to support legislation authorizing collective bargaining for the lawyers in her office.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, is calling for the Minnesota House to investigate Swanson's actions.