Thursday, March 13, 2008

Support from Hennepin County Assistant Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders

To the Editor:

I am the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local 2938. We represent the Assistant County Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders and other legal professionals employed by Hennepin County. Our Executive Board has asked me to write to show our strong support for the attorneys and legal staff at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office in their effort to organize under AFSCME. In particular we want to commend the courage of the three Assistant Attorneys General who spoke publicly about the organizing effort.

We have had union representation with AFSCME for over 35 years. We understand firsthand the importance of union representation and just-cause terminations in a public law office. We too work in an environment that experiences a political election every four years. We believe that union representation has helped us avoid the politically charged environment that currently plagues the Attorney Generals Office, an atmosphere that makes it difficult for their attorneys to do their jobs. In Hennepin County, we work in concert with our elected officials. Union representation ultimately benefits the public.

Union representation allows us to negotiate our salaries, and to ensure that salaries are consistent throughout the offices. Union representation allows us to negotiate our health and insurance benefits, as well as other conditions of employment. Union representation gives us a voice, and allows us to communicate productively with management, without fear of reprisal or of losing our jobs. In Hennepin County, elections are not followed by large numbers of staff resigning. We firmly believe that union representation benefits the citizens of Hennepin County by fostering retention of our highly skilled and experienced attorneys and other legal staff. We do better work, with fewer staff, than similar offices throughout the country.

We understand that over 50 attorneys, more than a third of the staff, have left the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office in the past year. That kind of turnover only brings down morale, weakens an office overall and reduces productivity. It does not benefit citizens. We also just learned that Amy Lawler, one of the three attorneys who spoke out publicly, has been placed on administrative leave for an unspecified period of time. This is why union representation is so important. There does not appear to be any process within that office for raising concerns with management without risking your job, as Ms. Lawler’s case demonstrates.

We offer our support and assistance as the employees at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office try and raise their voice to be heard. We wish them success, and hope that the public that these dedicated public servants serve, will support them too.

James Appleby’
President AFSCME Local 2938

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