Unemployed Verso millworkers keep up Bachmann criticismby Conrad Wilson, Minnesota Public Radio
SARTELL, Minn. — Former employees of the now-shuttered Verso Paper Mill in Sartell kept up their complaints Tuesday that Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann didn't reach out to the mill workers following the company's Memorial Day fire and explosion.
The Sartell Mill's emergency was the subject of a campaign ad against Bachmann by businessman and DFL challenger Jim Graves. In it, he also charges that Bachmann didn't meet with mill workers following the fire.
According to the St. Cloud Times, Bachmann called the ad's claim "a lie" while visiting the city Sept. 27.
Lyle Fleck, president of the Steelworkers Union Local 274, was featured in the Graves ad. He worked at the mill.
"I stand before you, my workers, the community, to set the record straight," Fleck said to a crowd gathered at the mill. "Representative Michele Bachmann did not personally reach out to the mill workers in the aftermath of the fire."
Fleck said in the days and weeks after the fire he either heard from or met with Gov. Mark Dayton, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, State Senator Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, and other local and county officials.
Fleck said that Bachmann's claim that the mill worker's story is false is untrue and misses the point.
"It is one thing to meet with the company officials and quite another to meet with the actual workers," he said. "Those whose jobs were at stake. These workers are her constituents. The ones she's supposed to represent."
The Bachmann campaign didn't comment on the mill workers claims Tuesday. But a Sept. 19 release from the Bachmann campaign said a member of the congresswoman's office was "on the scene within one hour of the explosion."
"While the Congresswoman was serving in Washington in the days following the accident, she continued to maintain direct contact with the president of Verso to offer her assistance," the release read.
Bachmann's first personal visit to Sartell to discuss Verso with city officials was on Aug. 9. At the meeting she talked about getting jobs back and helping workers transition to new careers.
Fleck says it's possible one of Bachmann's staff member may have been on the scene an hour after the explosion.
"I'm not saying they're lying," Fleck said.
But he adds that no one came up to him or other union leaders and said they were a representative of the congresswoman.
"Could she have tried to reach to us? Yes she could've. I could've missed a phone call. An email, I could've missed that," Fleck said, noting communication was limited for a period of time after the accident. "But all the other ones seemed to contact me."
Graves was at the union gathering.
"We don't want to make this central to the campaign," Graves said. "The message here is that Michele Bachmann is out of touch with the district."
Verso's decision to close the mill cost 259 workers their jobs, and could reduce the revenue from the city's biggest source of taxes.
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