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The Mess in the Minn. AG's Office

Loriswanson Just what is going on in the office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson? Over the past week, Minnesota Lawyer newspaper and its companion Minnesota Lawyer Blog have been covering staff attorneys' efforts to unionize -- an organizing campaign complete with a blog of its own, AG Organizing Update. But the story seems to get stranger by the day.

As Minnesota Lawyer reported Monday, three assistant AGs went public with their demand for a union by posting their letter to Swanson on their blog. The Feb. 13 letter asked Swanson to "recognize the will of the staff to be represented by a labor union." Last May, it says, a majority of the office's attorneys signed union authorization cards, but Swanson declined to recognize the union or to meet with representatives. The letter continues:

Since our organizing effort began, we have witnessed a number of conditions at the AGO that are of serious concern, including the abrupt and apparently unwarranted dismissal of employees engaged in the unionizing effort, the anonymous dispersal of anti-union literature in employee mailboxes and offices, and the rapid departure of one-third of the attorneys in the office.

Recently, the letter contends, virtually all staff attorneys have been asked to sign either an anti-union petition or a declaration of support for Swanson.

On Monday, a Republican state representative distributed copies of the letter on the floor of the House and called for an investigation of the AG's office. On Tuesday, Swanson issued an e-mail responding to the letter. She had not responded sooner, she wrote, because she had been out sick with the flu. She described the letter and the manner of its distribution as "embarrassing to the institution of the office" and said she disagreed with many of its accusations. She said that she had asked two of her deputies to meet with the letter's three authors "to flesh out the purpose of the letter and whether the three signatories actually represent the rest of the staff."

Then yesterday, the situation took another strange turn when Swanson announced that she had asked former U.S. District Judge Miles Lord and former Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Lebedoff "to conduct an informal advisory" by visiting with staff attorneys yesterday afternoon. Not surprisingly, the Lord/Lebedoff poll concluded that a majority of lawyers in the office do not support the three letter writers, Minnesota Lawyer reported yesterday afternoon. "A source close to the situation said the final tally was 52-30 against the three letter-writers. However, the source said, 14 employees refused to complete the form, calling it coercive, and approximately 30 others were either out of the office or otherwise unable to participate."

What did they expect? Minnesota Lawyer editor-in-chief Mark Cohen sums it up well:

It's hard for me to say what that vote means because I find the question itself confusing. You could be in favor of a union and not agree with everything that was in that letter. Or you could agree with everything that was in that letter, but not want to give the letter writers the authority to speak for you. It would have been a much simpler and cleaner affair if they had just asked the employees if they wanted to unionize.

Not to mention the intimidation factor: When two former federal judges come waving a union-organizing letter and ask whether you support it, how frank are you likely to be?

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 21, 2008 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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