Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Public employees file complaint over pay plan

Three Montana public employee unions representing state employees will file an unfair labor practice complaint against the state of Montana today.

MEA-MFT, the Montana Public Employees Association, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) announced at a press conference at the Capitol this morning that they planned to submit the complaint to the state Board of Personnel Appeals.

If the Board of Personnel Appeals finds in favor of the three unions, the unions will demand that the state come back to the bargaining table to negotiate. Union leaders said this could force the Legislature to return to Helena for a special session to ratify a pay plan agreement.

“The legislative majority left us with no other option but legal action,” MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver said in a statement to union members. “We will not stand by and allow them to roll Montana’s state employees under the bus.”

The unions in November negotiated with Gov. Brian Schweitzer for a salary increase of 1 percent in 2012 and 3 percent in 2013. Union members ratified the pay plan deal later that month.

However, Legislature failed to approve the pay plan during the Legislative session, freezing state workers' salaries for another two years. The state employees' unions agreed to a pay freeze during the 2009 session to help ease the state budget during the recession.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Montana women sue philanthropist Greg Mortenson in federal court

Two Montana women have sued philanthropist Greg Mortenson and his charity, the Bozeman-based Central Asia Institute, alleging that Mortenson committed fraud and deceit.

The plaintiff's—Michelle Reinhart, of Missoula, and Jean Price, of Great Falls—claim Mortenson fabricated material details about his activities and work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and defrauded charity donors as well as unsuspecting consumers who bought his bestselling book  “Three Cups of Tea,” which purports to be a work of non-fiction.

The claims stem from author Jon Krakauer's investigation of Mortenson and his charity in his book "Three Cups of Deceit," in which Krakauer accuses Mortenson of lying about and fabricating key parts of his inspirational autobiography.

Great Falls lawyer Alexander "Zander" Blewett, the plaintiffs' attorney in the case, said the federal class-action lawsuit seeks to disgorge monies Mortenson and the charity obtained fraudulently and give those funds to other charitable organizations to fulfill Central Asia Institute's purported mission of building schools in impoverished central Asian villages.

"Everything Mortenson has been saying to people to get them to give him money, to buy his books, to donate to his charity, have been massive falsehoods," Blewett said Friday. “It is apparent that the only way the children in Afghanistan and Pakistan are going to receive the schools promised to them is through this class action. Otherwise Mortenson and his organization will get away with this sham."

The Central Asia Institute was closed Friday afternoon and a call to the corporation's Kansas City attorney was not immediately returned.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock last month opened an investigation into Mortenson and the charity after a CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast reported that the Central Asia Institute paid for Mortenson's travel for speaking engagement and book tours even though the charity receives no income from the bestseller.

I’ll update this post later with more information and links.