ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is squaring off against one of the country's most powerful unions over whether lawyers in her office can join their ranks.
And the dispute already is said to have triggered the departure of some 25 AG staffers since January when Swanson took office. Two of the most recent departures were key office deputies.
The dispute first came to light Thursday during a scheduled Swanson press conference on an unrelated topic.
The issue hinges on whether 170 assistant AGs are eligible to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5, as the union claims. Swanson, a Democrat (DFL in Minnesota), says state law prohibits them from doing so.
Former AG employees told the St. Paul Pioneer Press yesterday that the unionization dispute had severely reduced morale in the office. One said employees had been "micromanaged and fired for any reason" since Swanson assumed office.
This month two top deputies left Swanson's office for what they described as "personal reasons". Kristine Eiden formerly was chief deputy attorney general while Mike Vanselow formerly was deputy attorney general.
Swanson counters that AFSCME Council 5 officials have tried to intimidate her into accepting the unionization drive in her office, Minnesota Public Radio reports.
She said AFSCME officials threatened to "demean or disparage" her office if she didn't accede to its demands. The union said it would launch a "blog attack" and "unfavorable [press] stories" against her, Swanson charged.
A union spokeswoman denied this, MPR reported, saying it had made a "courtesy call" to Swanson's office about media interest. She repeated AFSCME's opposition to Swanson's ruling that the union cannot organize inside the AG's office.
The Pioneer Press featured a former assistant AG at the Pollution Control Agency who claimed she was fired for passing out AFSCME membership cards. She has threatened to sue Swanson's office for unfaair labor practices.
Swanson confirmed the departure of 25 staffers since she took over as attorney general but denied they were linked to unionization efforts.
AFSCME claims 170 of the 367 employees of Swanson's office are eligible to join the union's Council 5.