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Friday, March 7, 2008

MPR reports on unionization attempt at AG's Office

Minnesota Public Radio today reports on the labor issues at the Minnesota Attorney General's Office that have been discussed extensively on this blog.

It has seemed extremely odd to me that most of the local general media -- particularly the Star Tribune -- has shirked its responsibility to report on what is going on in the AG's Office. I too like a lot of the external initiatives that Lori Swanson has undertaken as AG, but that does not mean that you don't provide at least of modicum of coverage to the serious internal strife going on within the office. It's our job as journalists.

On several occasions, I have compared the level of media scrutiny given to the management issues at the AG's Office with the level of media scrutiny given the management of the U.S. Attorney's Office under Republican-appointee Rachel Paulose. It isn't even close. Paulose was essentially driven from office by a barrage of negative media coverage. Meanwhile, the Strib as near as I can figure hasn't reported since May 2007 on the tribulations at the office of a DFL AG, despite allegations of harsh management practices and union-busting. It's hard not to view that as a double standard.

In any event, it will hopefully help now that things are more out in the open at the AG's Office. The people in favor of a union -- several of whom I have met in my travels -- do not strike me as motivated by anything other than concern about their working conditions and how they impact their job. If anything, some come across as a bit apologetic for having had to take the route they have, but honestly feel a union is the best alternative for the office.

I have no particular dog in the hunt as to whether or not there should be a union in the AG's Office -- there are both advantages and disadvantages to unions. I do believe that the employees there should be treated fairly regardless of whether they are in a union. I also believe employees making a union decision have the right to be left in peace to make that decision. If any of the alleged interference is still going on, it should cease immediately. Hopefully, sunlight will prove to be the badly needed disinfectant to this situation and lead to a workable solution.

UPDATE (11;55 a.m.): MinnPost reports on situation at AG's Office.


Anonymous said...

Here's a workable solution: One term. Then the next AG, whether DFL or Republican, can begin to re-build the Office. It will take years.

Anonymous said...

Eric Black has also written a lengthy piece on the AGO issue: http://www.minnpost.com/ericblack/2008/03/07/1104/staffers_detail_climate_of_stress_politicization_in_ags_office

Something interesting in his coverage is that state labor leaders have asked labor to withhold any contributions to Swanson until the unionization issue is resolved.

Anonymous said...

This so-called union effort needs to be over. It is just stupifyingly political, with far-right ideologues and far-left ideologues predictably in bed together. One of the organizers, for example, belongs to an organization of octagenarians, quaintly named the "Communist Party USA," which is urging its members to choke off the AGO's budget by contacting "the legislators who appropriate funds for the Attorney General’s Office: Senator Don Betzold (651-296-2556) and Representative Phyllis Kahn (651-296-4257). Tell them not to fund the Attorney General’s union-busting activity."

Thanks, friend...I'm sure that this is just what your fellow staff attorneys want...an even smaller budget and lower compensation for longer hours. Like the state budget squeeze and financial market crisis haven't taken a great enough toll on our lives and those of our families. Maybe next you can work on getting rid of those pesky health care and child care benefits. I'm sure there are Republican ideologues that will support you in that worthy effort.

As you can tell from this comment, those of us who work at the AGO are more than ready for the politicos to give it a rest. It has been a year of you soliciting us on breaks, at work, and at home, and we still don't want a union, thanks.

Swanson's AGO is doing fine work on behalf of ordinary Minnesotans, and Swanson has surrounded herself with exceptionally competent deputies and managers. She has responded to concerns expressed a year ago, and made herself and management accessible to staff in a way not seen for years. Bringing in Judges Lord and Lebedoff, who are decent, honorable people, to run a secret ballot voting, was very helpful--and gave those of us in the majority the option to say, "thanks, but no thanks."

The problem with the folks behind this organizing effort is that they are blinded by ideology and by their own obsessive lawyer-like personalities, and they don't see that they have already achieved what they set out to achieve--a management team with exceptional management skills and the ability to exercise them. The majority of us do not want or need a workplace managed by some guy at AFSCME, thanks. And frankly, AFSCME can't possiblywant us either-- a bunch of lawyers with big egos and comparatively big paychecks (at least compared tothe average AFSCME worker) who will chaff at the strictures of a union shop, and likely throw them back out, anyway, in the end. Be real, folks. Summer is coming. Get a life.

Anonymous said...

To the last poster: The only way to satisfactorily bring this to a conclusion is to allow a period of open discussion about the pros and cons of forming a union (possibly independent of AFSCME as an option) and then have a ballot that is clearly about the subject -- not a "do they speak for you" question.

Right now there is no open discussion in the office because people are too afraid (legitimately) of retaliation.

I agree it is time to end the distraction. But going McCarthy is not a constructive means of doing so.

An alternative to unionization is to establish some civil service / good cause system to end our at-will status to protect us from arbitrary dismissal.

Anonymous said...

Dear “Sen. Joseph McCarthy:”

Red-baiting is SO-O-O-O 50’s.

You lost the election because of your obsession with putting your hand-picked heir on the throne. And thank God you lost. There’s nothing worse than a pseudo-Populist who rules by threat, intimidation and abuse.

The union-busting campaign has your fingerprints all over it, right down to your paranoid ideation about Entenza being behind the organizing effort. Only you could have hatched a plan as shameless as the “secret ballot” with your buddies counting the votes.

What would the NLRB have to say about that?

Thanks to Mr. Cohen, Mr. Heilman, Mr. Pugmire and Mr. Black, the cover on your propaganda campaign is finally being blown. It’s over, pal. Time for you to head for the confession booth.

Anonymous said...

I just can't imagine who it could be that cares so much about stopping the AG union efort that he is actually doing opposition research on the organizers.

I can't dream of who it might be quoting Lori's election materials like he himself sat in focus groups coming up with the ubiquitous "ordinary Minnesotans" tagline.

Who could possibly be so concerned and worked up, that he is dreaming up little vignettes about how AG staff can't possibly interface with the "ordinary Minnesotans" at AFSCME.

Who's the propagandist? Who is so hell bent on making this into a political drama ...when it isn't? And why on earth wouldn't someone so beholden to Lori sign his name?

And he says he still works there? I thought he left last May.

Anonymous said...

For goodness sakes, MAH, why do you believe that a member of the organizing committee is a Communist because the party's website picked up on the story as it is circulating worldwide in labor circles?

Since when is it extreme ideology to believe that one should be treated with fairness, respect and trust in the workplace?

Anonymous said...

Ask all the public lawyers in union shops in the state (City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, St. Louis County Attorney (who recently organized), the Public Defenders) if they hate having union representation. I don't think so. This story is major and deserves a lot of attention.

Anonymous said...

No surprise in the claim that office consumer cases chosen to raise Swanson's profile and be used as public relations tool. See her involvement in Capitol One case which was settled prematurely so Acorn would endorse Hatch for governor before state convention. Acorn got money from settlement for consumer education. At least one attorney left office in protest. Is there any oversight of how the ag chooses cases, allocates resources to cases and resolves cases? I am a Democrat but I don't like the idea that my tax dollars(in the way of human resources) were used to underwrite the perennial political campaigns of Hatch and now Swanson. The hardworking attorneys and support staff deserve much better than the fearmongering and disrespect they are subjected to by Swanson, ala Hatch.

Anonymous said...

Lawyer who spoke out about AG's office put on leave:

Anonymous said...

Lawyer who spoke out against AG Swanson put on leave


Anonymous said...

This is getting ridiculous. I work at the AG's office. My experience of the last year has been going about my business trying to do my work and then suddenly being bombarded with news stories and letters about this union stuff. Just when I think it has died down and gone away already, something comes up again. It is getting really irritating. It distracts from my ability to do my work. I have no complaints about my job, my managers, my division, or my work. I have no idea if there are things going on in the rest of the office that are the source of all of the complaining. In my neck of the office, everything is fine. So, every time this union stuff comes up, it ends up creating a major distraction and I really wish it would just get resolved already. I've thought about going to the media and saying as much but, then, I figure I would become the media's target or the union's target, people would start digging around in my personal life and I would really prefer to be left alone. Enough already! I don't want your stupid union and I don't particularly care if the office has one. I just want to be left to do my job in peace.

Anonymous said...

You're right, you have no idea what is going on in the rest of the AGO. I work at the AGO, too, and I want to be able to do my job without micromanagement, coercion and fear of reprisal for taking an ethical stand or making a valid legal point.

Anonymous said...

Just because you have a problem with your manager or your deputy doesn't mean the whole office needs to be unionized. Have you tried talking to other managers or deputies about your concerns or do you just complain a lot to people who can't do anything about it?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone bothered to read Minnesota statutes? This isn't up to Swanson to decide, even if she wanted to. Until the legislature acts (and a governor signs) no one in the AG's Office can join a union. I'm not sure what this fuss is about anymore, but it isn't about forming a union. That issue was d.o.a..