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The climate advocacy group MN350 has fired a prominent organizer and reprimanded another organizer, exposing tensions between its leaders and a staff that is in the process of unionizing.

MN350 this month fired Nancy Beaulieu and disciplined Andy Pearson, they told Sahan Journal, for "timecard deception." But MN350 staff members say they're being disciplined for their work on the organizing committee for MN350 Workers United.

"I know I didn't do anything wrong," said Beaulieu.

MN350 Executive Director Tee McClenty declined to comment on specifics but disagreed with the staffers' characterization. "Under no circumstance has staff been disciplined due to unionization," she said in a statement.

In a separate statement released by McClenty and a majority of the MN350 board, the organization said that an independent human resources firm has been advising MN350 on personnel matters.

Employees, who are in the process of seeking formal recognition of their union, are demanding Beaulieu's reinstatement with back pay and a full investigation of working conditions at MN350.

MN350 Workers United has also filed an unfair labor practices claim with the National Labor Relations Board. The actions taken against Beaulieu and Pearson are an attack on the new union, according to a post on the union's Facebook page, "and an affront to all who seek workers rights and climate justice."

Minneapolis-based MN350 is a nonprofit that organizes hundreds of volunteers for environmental campaigns. Since 2011 it has been a fixture of statewide climate action, particularly in the resistance to the Line 3 pipeline, in which Beaulieu and Pearson played prominent roles. It had a $1.2 million budget in 2022, mostly funded by grants, according to its annual report.

The episode leading to the discipline, Pearson said, began when Beaulieu was directed by MN350 managers to identify the grant fund to be billed for her hours on her timesheet. She was on the road with no access to the internet so she called Pearson, who logged into MN350's system and added the grant billing information.

However, he found her timecard had already been approved and an administrator needed to sign off on adjusting the grant fund line item. Beaulieu said her billable hours weren't changed, only the grant billing information.

"It does seem like they set her up," said Noelle Cirisan, political manager at MN350.

Beaulieu worked for MN350 for nearly seven years, mostly leading pipeline resistance and treaty rights organizing in northern Minnesota. An enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, she became involved in Indigenous pipeline resistance during the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016.

MN350 hired Beaulieu as an organizer in its Line 3 resistance movement. She also launched the group's treaty rights campaign and started a Rock the Native Vote project. Now she is considering filing a civil suit against MN350.

"There was no ill intention here; there was no deception," Beaulieu said.

Days after the new union was announced on June 12, MN350 leaders sent a formal letter asking staffers to waive the right to strike, picket, distribute informational leaflets and petition the National Labor Relations Board. Staffers say they're also in conflict with MN350 leadership over eligibility for union membership.

In her statement to Sahan Journal, McClenty did not respond to direct questions about the union campaign. But on her personal Facebook page, she wrote there is "a false narrative" about herself and the MN350 board regarding unionization, and that she has "a strong history of being a union member" and organizer.

"I still value the power of unions but not when they create false narratives," McClenty wrote in her Facebook post. "Not when they create hostile environments for their own political gains."

According to a statement shared with Sahan Journal, McClenty signed an agreement with an "external Human Resources organization" in October 2022 to provide MN350 with "impartial expertise on personnel issues." It added that the organization "has been documenting infractions" since the agreement was struck.

It also said, without citing examples, that MN350 leaders were "concerned about long-standing issues of racism in the organization" and that the board was committed to "rooting out racism in all forms including, but not limited to micro aggression, passive aggression, undermining BIPOC voices, and tokenism."

Staff members past and present say there's been a significant change in the way MN350 has operated since hiring McClenty, who had served as executive director of the Minnesota School Employees Association. The organization feels more corporate, Beaulieu said, and contact between staff members and the board is now prohibited.

"That's why we had to unionize to protect our working rights, and without those rights, we cannot take our power back, we can't take 350 back," Beaulieu said.

Several workers have left MN350 in the past year, citing changes in the culture and frustration over what they regard as micromanagement. One of them, Joe Morales, was hired as an Indigenous organizing director in May 2021 and was part of a three-person team that helped run MN350 that fall.

Morales originally backed the decision to hire McClenty, but within six months he and the other two members of the leadership team had left. He thinks the organization has strayed from its mission.

"I still care about the staff and the mission of MN350, but I cannot support the organization anymore," Morales said.