Lori Swanson visited a picket line outside the Park Nicollet clinics in St. Louis Park. That's where members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 were protesting the health care provider's decision to no longer accept a Medicare plan used by many of the union's retired members.
"I'm happy to be here to lend support to this cause," she said. "We have a broken health care system in this state and this country."
Swanson's public show of support for union workers contrasts sharply with an anti-union climate that members of her own staff have described inside the attorney general's office.
Some attorneys have been working for a year to organize with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 5. AFSCME officials have accused Swanson of union-busting tactics, but she insists state law prohibits attorneys in her office from organizing.
After the St. Louis Park rally, Local 49 Business Manager Glen Johnson came to the attorney general's defense.
"I've had nothing but positive support from Lori Swanson for local 49 union," he said. "She's been with the unions on everything. She here with our union today. And I say that Lori has done a fantastic job representing the working people of Minnesota."
Johnson and representatives of five other union offered similar words of support for Swanson earlier this month in individual letters.
Swanson included copies of those testimonials in a letter she sent last week to DFL Legislative leaders. In that letter, Swanson wrote that there was misinformation circulating about her office and the AFSCME effort to unionize attorneys and offered her own version of the situation.
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."
“I think I've got a great relationship with the labor unions in Minnesota.”Attorney General Lori Swanson
Swanson also offered a brief response to recent allegations of unethical conduct within her office. Amy Lawler, an assistant attorney general and union organizer who was suspended from her job last week, wrote a letter in response to her punishment and highlighted eight cases of co-workers being pressured into ethically compromising situations.
Swanson echoed a written statement issued a day earlier by her communications director. "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."
Swanson walked away from reporters and deflected additional questions. As she moved toward her car, Swanson said "we're here to talk about health care."
A spokeswoman for AFSCME Council 5 declined to comment on Swanson's union rally appearance.