Top Minnesota union official resigns amid investigation

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AFSCME Council 5 members rally
Members of AFSCME Council 5 rally at the State Capitol Tuesday, March 25, 2014 in support of a minimum wage increase.
Tim Pugmire / MPR News

Updated: 6:33 p.m.

The head of an influential Minnesota public employee union is out. It comes about six weeks after he was placed on leave during a misconduct investigation that officials have declined to detail.

John Westmoreland, who had been executive director of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 5, submitted his resignation to the board this week. Westmoreland couldn’t be reached for comment.

“The council, all of its members and the employees we represent are grateful for the many years of commitment and sacrifice that John gave to this organization in service of the workers throughout the state of Minnesota,” AFSCME Council 5 said in a statement on Thursday.

Pete Benner, a longtime labor official who had been leading AFSCME amid the investigation, said Thursday that the union’s executive board appointed Julie Bleyhl as interim executive director.

Bleyhl has been the main lobbyist for the union at the Capitol for decades and also served previously as a University of Minnesota regent and state colleges system trustee. She didn’t immediately respond to a phone call or text message.

“She is the interim executive director and will help lead the search process for a permanent executive director,” Benner said.

He said there is no timetable for filling the position. “People will want to fill it sooner rather than later, but I can’t tell you how long the search will take,” Benner said.

The union representing more than 17,000 state employees across the state is a key force in Democratic politics, making its stability a source of interest heading into a high-stakes election year.

Westmoreland had been at the helm since 2017.

He had been under investigation since August. The union didn’t say what prompted the inquiry, saying it was withholding details to protect the privacy of the parties involved. An outside entity had been brought in to conduct the probe.

Benner said Westmoreland’s resignation effectively ends the investigation.

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