The controversy over the Minnesota attorney general's office boiled over on Friday with more fallout from the recent exodus of more than 30 employees, including top deputies.
At a Capitol news conference, the union trying to organize lawyers in the attorney general's office called on Attorney General Lori Swanson to keep promises a union leader said she made when the union endorsed her in October.
By Friday evening, the House had voted 129-0 to ask the Rules Committee to investigate whether Swanson used union-busting tactics to stop organizing efforts in her office, or improperly fired assistant attorneys general. The union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, is the largest public union in the state, representing some 55,000 workers.
Meanwhile, in interviews, several former top lawyers from the office linked the wave of departures to Swanson's decision to put former Attorney General Mike Hatch back on the office payroll.
AFSCME executive director Eliot Seide told reporters Friday at the Capitol that organizing efforts in the attorney general's office began after several former assistant attorneys general approached the union about an office atmosphere of intimidation and harassment.
The union has accused Swanson of abruptly firing Assistant Attorney General Kari Jo Ferguson last week for collecting union membership cards.
"They have shared their stories about political patronage, fear, intimidation and
humiliating working conditions," Seide said of attorneys in the office. "Now is the time for Lori Swanson to confer about working conditions. And there's nothing stopping her in asking worker-friendly legislators to change the statute, the Public Employees Relations Act."
Seide demanded that Swanson recognize the union for the purpose of meeting with the lawyers to talk about working conditions and to press for legislation to allow the union to negotiate contracts on behalf of the attorneys.
"We expect nothing less from a candidate who carries our endorsement,'' Seide said.
Those work conditions include a pattern of micromanagement as well as abrupt and unpredictable reassignments, dismissals and outright firings, the union alleged.
The union hasn't been able to meet with Swanson about the problems, Seide said.
In a prepared statement Friday, Swanson didn't address the underlying issue of working conditions. She suggested that AFSCME was bullying her into designating the union to represent her employees because of its prior endorsement.
"As the state's chief legal officer, I cannot ignore the law, a union endorsement notwithstanding," Swanson said in the statement, adding that it was up to employees whether they wanted a union.
Swanson's office Friday vigorously defended her decision to hire Hatch.
Spokesman Brian Bergson said Swanson "is grateful that a lawyer of Hatch's experience and talent - who could make a lot more money outside of government - is instead serving the citizens of Minnesota and the cause of justice."
He denied that Hatch had any undue influence, and he said Hatch is busy heading up the office's complex litigation unit, he said.
I can't understand why Lori Swanson hired Hatch.