11 March 2008

Unionizing in the AG's office

Union battle heats up in A.G. Swanson's office

Since there is a lawyer in my family, I've been hearing rumblings for a while. The allegation of union busting isn't new, but some of the attorneys have gone public about what they've seen.

Lawler said she was on the job just a week when an attorney, who introduced himself as the head of the office social committee, took her out for coffee and delivered a strong anti-union message.
Lawler said the same attorney later approached her and other employees, asking them to sign what she described as a loyalty petition.

"The second paragraph is all about how great Lori Swanson is, how she's the first attorney general to graduate at the top of her class, how she's the first attorney general with such extensive public and private experience, how she never brings politics into the office, how she's all around a great leader," Lawler said. "And then the last paragraph is about how we decry the union's tactics, we don't want them representing us and they don't speak for us."

While union busting tactics have been around for as long as there have been unions to bust, but Lori Swanson ran for the AG seat as a Democrat with an endorsement from the DFL. If we had known that she was going to actively suppress unionizing, she wouldn't have gotten the DFL endorsement and that would have seriously hurt her chances at getting the job.

But this isn't over yet. Lawler was interviewed on MPR and in that interview she brought up some ethical issues she had encountered on the job along with the aforementioned issues of union busting. For bringing up her concerns in public, rather than through the proper channels at the AG's office, Lawler has been suspended.

AG's office defends suspension of attorney
During an interview, Lawler also described wrestling with ethical issues in her job. She said one issue came up when Swanson directed her to quickly file lawsuits against mortgage foreclosure consultants even though the attorney general had no defendants in mind.

"And that was kind of the case across the board," she said. "She's just have an idea about a lawsuit, and she'd want it filed as quickly as possible. The biggest was she wanted people who'd be willing to appear at press conferences."

Those ethical issues, which Lawler also shared with other reporters, were specifically referenced in the letter from Deputy Attorney General Karen Olson notifying her of the administrative leave.

Interesting timing don't you think?

Back in the first article they make it clear that this isn't just about having a union or not having a union. Its about having the State Attorney General's office staffed with good lawyers who want to be there.

Jody Wahl left the attorney general's office in January after 25 years. Wahl said she saw more than 50 professionals leave the office in the past year, but it appeared to her that Swanson wasn't interested in the reasons.

She said the attorney general never recognized the union discussion as a management issue.

"There wasn't an understanding that this was truly an internal, staff-driven effort to have conversations with their colleagues about whether obtaining union representation would work to benefit the work of the attorney general's office," Wahl said. "Instead, it appears there was a sense that this was driven by outside forces, by former political rivals or former staff members, or whatever. And that isn't the case."

I have a feeling this is going to get worse before it gets better.

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