Union rebuff of auditor irks lawmakers

State lawmakers are criticizing the Minnesota Law Enforcement Association (MLEA) for refusing to provide financial data to the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) for a study of union fair-share fees.

The OLA released a report today on the calculations made by state employee unions to determine fair share fees charged to non-member employees. Nine of 10 unions participated in the evaluation.

During a meeting of the Legislation Audit Commission, Legislative Auditor James Nobles said he could have pressed the issue with a subpoena but decided against it.

"I don't like it frankly when people do not comply," Nobles said. "I think it is not only disrespectful to the Legislative Auditor and the authority of the Legislative Auditor but to you as a Legislative Audit Commission."

But James Michels, a lawyer representing the MLEA, contends Nobles' inquiry into how unions spend their money is inappropriate and exceeds his statutory authority.

"Once the state pays money in wages for services rendered by the members of the association, it's no longer state money," Michels said in an interview.

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Michels explained the argument in a letter to Nobles, In it, he also questioned the motives of an unnamed legislator who requested the evaluation.

"His history of anti-employee and anti-union rhetoric and proposed legislation is well documented and raises grave concerns among the members of the MLEA," Michels wrote.

Michels later said he was referring to Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

There was bipartisan criticism of the union and the letter from commission members, who contended that no one legislator is responsible for an evaluation request moving forward. Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, called the noncompliance "very concerning." Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove said the Minnesota Law Enforcement Association was "out of line."

"They're roughed up because somebody a few years ago happened to have a hearing about right-to-work," Limmer said. "Because of that, they're going to stamp their feet and have a little rant on a piece of paper that says 'we're not going to do it.'"

Commission members said they will respond formally to the MLEA.