Minnesota union leader resigns amid investigation

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — One of Minnesota’s most influential public employee unions will be searching for a new leader after its executive director resigned amid an investigation that officials have declined to detail.
The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 5 said in a statement that John Westmoreland stepped down Wednesday.
Westmoreland, who had led the union since 2017, was placed on leave in August. Westmoreland couldn’t be reached for comment.
Pete Benner, a longtime labor official who had been leading the union during the probe, said Thursday that Westmoreland’s resignation concludes the investigation.
“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,” the union said Thursday in the statement.
The union, which has more than 43,000 members, said it was withholding specifics of the probe to protect the privacy of the parties involved. An outside entity had been brought in to conduct the investigation, according to a previous statement from the union.
The union that is a key force in Democratic politics, which makes its stability a source of interest heading into a high-stakes election year.
Benner said the union’s executive board selected Julie Bleyhl as interim executive director. Bleyhl has been the union’s main lobbyist for decades and has served as a University of Minnesota regent and state college system trustee.
“She is the interim executive director and will help lead the search process for a permanent executive director,” Benner said.
Bleyhl did not immediately respond to email or phone messages seeking comment.
Benner said there’s no timetable for filling the position.
The shake-up comes on the heels of a successful negotiation between the union and Gov. Tim Walz’s administration for a new contract, which will give state employees raises of 2.25% this year and 2.5% in 2020, with modest increases in worker health care contributions and a generous student loan repayment plan.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org