by Dennis Dalman
The Verso employee union president, Lyle Fleck, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce he does not appreciate being called a “liar,” allegedly by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater).
Fleck said that term is an insult not only to him but to all the employees he has worked with and represented.
The press conference took place outdoors at Watab Park in Sartell. It was attended by about 50 people who included former Verso employees, the media and Democratic candidate Jim Graves, who is running against Bachmann in the Nov. 6 election.
The controversy began when Fleck and some of his fellow employees were part of an ad supporting Bachmann challenger Graves. Fleck said Bachmann did not show up in Sartell to show any concern until about two months after the May 28 Verso explosion, which left one worker dead, injured a few others and put 250 employees out of work. On Aug. 9, Bachmann met with officials from the city and from Verso. Fleck said he and his colleagues were angry that Bachmann did not invite any union workers to that meeting.
When Bachmann got wind of the Graves ad last month, she said the charge she had not personally visited Sartell right after the disaster was a “lie.” She said she had sent a representative and that she had, through her office, reached out to the union. Fleck said he has no evidence of such a contact or attempted contact. He said Bachmann’s not meeting with Verso workers was like “rubbing salt in our wounds.”
Fleck held up a copy of the story in the St. Cloud Times that was headlined, “Bachmann calls Verso claim a lie.” It was Fleck who told a reporter Bachmann did not show up until two months after the explosion that ultimately shut down the plant for good. Fleck said he is the one who contacted Bachmann’s office.
A representative from Bachmann’s office did visit with some Verso employees Aug. 10 at the WorkForce Center in St. Cloud, Fleck noted.
Asked if he was positive achmann had not visited Sartell earlier than August, Fleck asked himself a rhetorical question, then answered it:
“Could I have missed something? Yes, I could have, but I don’t think I did,” he said.
Bachmann represents Sartell as part of the 6th Congressional District. Fleck said she is the only one who did not show up shortly after the Verso explosion. Those who came and offered support to the 250 workers were Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, Democratic Minnesota US. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Republican State Rep. Tim O’Driscoll of Sartell and Republican State Sen. Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville.
“Fischbach’s got my vote,” Fleck said, adding she reached out and asked Fleck and the union vice president that she wanted to hear from them and the displaced workers about their needs.
Graves told the media at the conference Bachmann’s “out-of-touch” behavior after the Verso explosion is an example – in his opinion – of how she has not been representing the people of her district. Graves said he met with Verso workers in the days after the explosion at the American Legion Club in Sauk Rapids.