Oregon Governor has no shame

Oregon Governor has no shame

Oregon Governor has no shame

Oregon’s Governor, Kate Brown, thinks SEIU 503 should be a leading voice on the Advisory Council tasked with improving transparency in the state’s public records laws.

Never mind that SEIU 503 has been the quintessential example over the past three years of how to roll back transparency protections under Oregon Public Records Law.

Never mind that in 2015, SEIU 503 encouraged legislators to pass HB 3037 and HB 3557, which added exemptions to the law specifically designed to keep Medicaid-compensated caregivers from learning of their constitutional rights under Harris v. Quinn.

Never mind that Gov. Kate Brown and SEIU 503 were blasted by the press for their obvious collusion and have never denied it.

Never mind that in 2017, a year of sweeping public records reform bills passed by the Oregon Legislature, SEIU 503 convinced Rep. Tina Kotek’s office to amend HB 2101 – a bill designed to eliminate exemptions – to make the above-mentioned 2015 exemptions untouchable.

Never mind that the Freedom Foundation exposed the hypocrisy during public testimony.

And never mind that in neighboring Washington state, SEIU 503’s counterpart devised what has been called “the most dishonest ballot measure in history,” when it tricked voters into passing I-1501 to eliminate similar records protections.

Never mind all that.

The 13-member Public Records Advisory Council was created by SB 106, one of the several public records reform bills passed during the 2017 legislative session. The governor promptly designated SEIU 503 as the “public-sector workforce” representative.

Ironically, the members of that “public-sector workforce” are exactly who SEIU 503 has been hurting with its anti-transparency actions.

The union’s meddling with Oregon Public Records Law, after all, has been for one purpose and one purpose only – to prevent public employees from learning about their constitutional rights to choose whether or not to financially support a labor union.

And which labor union are those employees automatically forced to support (unless they learn about and exercise those constitutional rights)?

SEIU 503, of course.

So who exactly did Kate Brown appoint to the Advisory Council? An unbiased, disinterested representative who will make objective decisions on behalf of public employees? Or an entity that has proved time and again – and will likely prove again soon – that its only interest in Public Records Law is decreasing transparency for self-interested financial motives?

Bet on the latter.

There’s little doubt SEIU 503 will attempt to use its position on the Advisory Council to further erode transparency laws, not make them stronger.

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to rule in Janus v. AFSCME that all mandatory union fees in the public sector are unconstitutional, SEIU 503 has a greater financial interest in limiting transparency than ever. Specifically, it will want to ensure that Oregon’s public employee contact information is never disclosed to a group like the Freedom Foundation, which uses the information to educate public employees about those rights.

The good news is, SEIU 503 won’t be successful. While the union might be able to further dilute the state’s public records laws – the council can recommend changes to laws, policies, etc. – it will be unable to stop the Freedom Foundation’s successful outreach campaign to public employees.

The union’s 2015 exemptions, for example, were designed to prevent the Freedom Foundation from informing Medicaid-compensated caregivers about their rights under Harris v. Quinn, which gave this select group of “partial-public employees” the freedom to opt out of paying any union fees.

Despite the union’s best efforts, the Freedom Foundation’s campaign to inform Harris-affected caregivers of their rights has become the most successful in the nation. Recent data show that as of August of this year, the number of Oregon caregivers paying union dues to SEIU has dropped by over 40 percent.

If the trend among caregivers is any indication, SEIU 503 is right to worry about the rest of the public sector workforce. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules as expected in Janus v. AFSCME, those employees will also be able to opt out of paying any union fees.

But the fact remains, SEIU’s placement on the Advisory Council is wrong. It allows the union to attempt to further manipulate Oregon Public Records Law for no other purpose than to keep dues-paying employees in the dark about their rights.

The Freedom Foundation will be on the alert to protect our state’s transparency laws from further self-interested meddling by SEIU.

Hopefully, the media will also once again recognize the union’s antics and raise the alarm.

Policy Analyst
Ben Straka serves as a policy analyst for the Freedom Foundation. His responsibilities include an array of policy research and reform efforts, primarily centered around labor relations, education and government transparency within the states. In addition, he provides support for the Freedom Foundation’s Outreach program and works closely with the rest of the team to hold local governments and public-sector unions accountable to state residents. Ben joined the Freedom Foundation in May 2016. He is a native of Eugene, Ore., and a graduate of Corban University, where he studied political science and business.