So Lori Swanson, Attorney General of the State of Minnesota and avowed union backer, is also a union buster. Last week, her office suspended Amy Lawler, an attorney in the AG's office. The problem is, Lawler is also a union organizer who is attempting to organize her office. Of course, Swanson's mouthpiece has stated that the suspension has nothing to do with organizing efforts but does anyone really believe that?
The story of Lawler started in February when she along with two others representing an organizing committee delivered a letter to Swanson asking that she recognize the employees will to be represented by a union
[the letter can be found in the sidebar of the linked article, along with Swanson's response]. Almost a year before the letter, a majority of attorneys had signed union cards which state that they wish to be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 (following that initial drive, last spring, a lawyer from the office was fired by Swanson in retaliation for union activity). Lawler joined organizers quickly after only four months on the job in the AG's office in response to strong-arm tactics from management in the form of a coffee meeting with the head of the office social committee:
"He started talking to me about why we didn't need a union," Lawler said, "how people only need unions if they are lazy and don't want to do work, and if they're not very good at their jobs and they need protection."
Lawler said the attorney claimed union organizers within the office were backed by an outside political faction intent on bringing down Lori Swanson.
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." [emphasis added]
Following the letter from the organizers Swanson began conducting her own polls of staff regarding their desire to organize, polls which included captive audience meetings (typical union busting strategy, by the way) and neglecting to invite pro-union lawyers to the voting sessions. After announcing her results, Swanson decried the letter from the OC as an attempt to embarrass the AG and her office. She also continued to state that the lawyers who work in her office, legally, have no right to organize.
Just days after Lawler went public with this matter, surprise! She was removed from her job! No, not anything as garish as being fired, instead, she was placed on "administrative leave." The reason given was that Lawler did not go through the proper channels in voicing concerns over ethical issues in her job. Of course it had absolutely nothing to do with her union activities. Wink-wink. Deputy Attorney General Karen Olson, who explained to the press why Lawler was removed from her position also told reporters that she has "asked that she [Lawler] provide to me, by the end of the week, any information she has regarding ethical concerns. And in fact, if she has any ethical concerns, she should report any violation to the Minnesota Board of Professional Responsibility,"
Yesterday, Lawler delivered a 20 page letter in repsonse listing those concerns which she says she previously raised with supervisors.
In addition, Lawler highlighted eight specific incidents when other attorneys in the office faced their own ethical challenges. . . .Lawler described an incident when an attorney in the AG's office refused orders to add inaccurate statements to a consumer's affidavit.
In another case, she says an assistant attorney general was criticized for removing false statements that a supervisor had inserted in affidavits.
Current and former staff attorneys who asked that their names not be used, confirmed both incidents to MPR News.
Lawler says another attorney was ordered to invite consumers to a meeting with the attorney general, but the attorney was not allowed to tell those consumers that the event was also a press conference. That incident was also confirmed by a former attorney.
Other allegations include a supervisor asking an attorney to make blog post lauding the Swanson administration, and employees being hired with the explicit instruction that the position required loyalty to Attorney General Swanson, and that those advocating for the union were not being loyal.
Swanson responded to the letter by again stating that it was an attempt to embarrass her office and repeating that state law prohibits attorneys in her office from forming a union. Today, to show what a great supporter of unions she is, Lori Swanson spoke at a picket line of members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 who were protesting a change in insurance plans for retired members.
Following the Local 49 event, Swanson was asked if she'd been getting a bum rap on unions.
"I think I've got a great relationship with the labor unions in Minnesota" she said. "I work incredibly hard in the office for the working people of Minnesota and and for all ordinary Minnesotans. And I'm going to keep doing that, keep fighting for the people of Minnesota and keep fighting for ordinary people."
She was also asked about the recent allegations of unethical conduct in her office. Swanson responded by saying:
"An employer can't respond to anonymous allegations from anonymous former employees or disgruntled employees," she said. "That puts the employer in an untenable situation. If you want to give me names of people and specifics, I'd be happy to talk to you."
I really shouldn't be shocked at any of this but I can't help it. I am. People who claim to represent workers shouldn't then go out and trample those workers' rights to organize. People who claim to support labor, who walk around flaunting their union credentials shouldn't then go and piss on their own employees when they try to form a union.
This is an issue which is deeply personal to me. Eleven years ago, I worked at PICA (Parents in Community Action) Head Start in Minneapolis and after two years of seeing how the staff was treated and tired of not getting raises while the director saw her salary double, I and a group of co-workers decided to organize. For my troubles, I was fired (along with another employee who was seen signing a union card). Eleven years later and admitting to nearly a dozen unfair labor practices (which included my firing), PICA Head Start in Minneapolis still has no union. And they never will have a union because most the politicians on the left, when it really comes down to it, couldn't give a crap about labor except for the money they get in campaign contributions.
When I was fired from Head Start, the labor endorsed DFL mayor, Sharon Sayles-Belton, sat on the PICA board. When I met with her about my situation she did not look at me once. Her main question was whether or not Head Start could function if the employees formed a union and was shocked that other Head Starts (like the one in St. Paul) were already organized. Paul Wellstone, union supporter, man of the people and savior of the left, would not support us. After months of negotiating he finally sent a letter to the president of the labor union (not to us, the workers, but the head of the union) saying that, in theory, Head Start employees had the right to organize and that he supported that theoretical right. Martin Olav Sabo, another labor endorsed candidate, would not even agree that we had
the right to organize. The only Minneapolis or Minnesota politician who did anything was Mike Freeman who was Hennepin County Attorney at the time. The minute he heard about our situation, he sent a letter to the director of Head Start informing her that violating federal law (by firing a labor organizer) was not an offense his office would take lightly and was a violation of Head Start's contract with the county which could result in the loss of said contract. He also sent a letter to the employees informing them of their right to organize.
It really depresses me to hear about cases like Amy Lawler's. It takes incredible courage to join an organizing committee and it's such a huge risk to put your own neck out on the line. Her act of courage lost her her job. DFLers should be counted on to support organizers. They shouldn't have to be asked and begged and pleaded with to recognize their employees' right to organize. If they really are pro-labor, they should show it. But they don't because when it comes down to it, they aren't. But next election cycle, you can be sure Lori Swanson will get that labor endorsement, and she'll go out and talk about how much she fights for the working Minnesotan and how much she supports labor and all their causes, how she feels for them and how much she helps them in their struggles. Just as long they don't come into her house.