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The attempt by unions to organize attorneys in Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson's office continues to splinter labor officials.

In an unusual letter aimed at Swanson, the state's highest DFL- and labor-endorsed officeholder, the head of the Minnesota AFL-CIO has asked union officials not to send any campaign contributions to the attorney general until the dispute within her office is resolved. Swanson, who took office last year, is resisting union organizing attempts in her office, saying employees of elected state officeholders cannot by law be members of a union.

"Everybody isn't thrilled with the letter," Diane O'Brien, a spokesperson for the state AFL-CIO, said Tuesday. "This isn't the first time labor unions have disagreed on an issue, and I think it's clear there's some disagreement."

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Ray Waldron, in a letter last month, said he made the appeal knowing that individual unions "may have their own institutional concerns, and that we all depend on the attorney general's office for legal opinions which affect our work."

Swanson, who does not face reelection until 2010, said in a written response Tuesday that the appeal would not substantially affect her. "My political committee has already reached the maximum allowable limit from labor unions this year," she said. "I appreciate the letters and support I've been getting from unions."

Carl Crimmins, president of the 9,000-member Minnesota Pipe Trades Association, downplayed the issue. "I think the letter [from Waldron] was just to talk to Lori, just to get her attention," he said. "We have issues every year that we rely on the attorney general for advice and direction."

Crimmins was one of several union heads who sent Swanson letters of support after Waldron urged them to begin withholding campaign contributions. While Crimmins' letter on March 6 did not specifically reference the union organizing, he wrote that the union "is proud to have an attorney general that stands up for working people and their families."

Even within the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union trying to organize the office, an internal dispute over Swanson's office is continuing.

With AFSCME Council 5, which covers the Twin Cities metro area, attempting to organize lawyers in Swanson's office, an AFSCME affiliate criticized the move. The head of the affiliate, AFSCME Council 65, wrote that he did not support the "tactics or position" of AFSCME Council 5.

But AFSCME Council 65 executive director Steve Preble issued a second letter last week, which he called a clarification. "I should not have offered an opinion that the attorneys who are attempting to organize are 'clearly exempt' from the right to collectively bargain" under state law, he wrote.

"It was not our intention to interfere," he added.

AFSCME Council 5 director Eliot Seide said Preble's letter retracted his earlier comments. "We very definitely consider it a retraction -- I would say a retraction and a clarification," he said.

Replied Preble: "It's definitely not a retraction."

Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388