In a blistering piece headlined, “Transparency in the post-Janus age,” The Oregonian editorial board on June 30 ripped into Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s latest effort to appease her government union campaign donors by preventing the Freedom Foundation from talking to their members.
The criticism was prompted by Brown’s June 20 letter instructing state officials to convene a new workgroup for the purpose of further limiting the disclosure of public employee information under Oregon’s Public Records Law.
The letter cited two recent requests, one by the Freedom Foundation and another by The Oregonian, as the reason why new exemptions should be considered.
And yet, as article points out, there’s no disguising the fact that Brown’s move is especially targeted at the Freedom Foundation. It’s a blatant attempt to prevent our organization from contacting public employees about their constitutional right to opt out of union dues following last week’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME.
Perhaps The Oregonian put it best, writing:
“Gov. Kate Brown wasted no time Wednesday morning in pledging her unwavering fealty to the public … public employee unions, that is.
Following an unfavorable U.S. Supreme Court decision, she and Oregon public-employee union executives released a statement decrying the Janus vs AFSCME decision, which prohibits unions from collecting fees to cover collective-bargaining costs from employees who are not members. The statement, which urges employees to “stick together,” is issued on official Oregon letterhead and headlined “Governor Kate Brown Stands with Oregon Union Members.” Apparently, public employees who aren’t union members can go take a hike.
Credit Brown for not hiding her commitment to public employee unions, even at the expense of the public. Considering that the unions have been among her most generous campaign contributors, it’s not difficult to see why she has dragged her feet on seeking substantial employee pension reforms or why she rallied behind unions’ ill-considered Measure 97 campaign. Her official endorsement of unions to help stave off defections fits right in.
But recent actions by her office give the public reason to keep a close eye on how far her administration may go to help unions hold onto members. As The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Ted Sickinger reported, Brown is considering seeking new limits on what employee information can be released to the public with possible legislation aimed at the 2019 session.
The article also called out Brown’s chief of staff for his mealy-mouthed, disingenuous explanation of the governor’s directive:
“Blosser (Brown’s chief of staff) told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board that Brown’s current interest isn’t focused on the Freedom Foundation or other organizations. He also said that unions weren’t behind the call to review employee information exemptions – despite complaints Blosser heard from the director of the state’s largest public employee union earlier this month about the data release, according to the Malheur Enterprise.
Rather, Blosser said, the objective is to strike a balance between employees’ privacy rights and government transparency. Of particular concern, Blosser said, is whether birth month and year data could leave an employee vulnerable to identity theft or a Cambridge Analytica type intrusion.
Such disaster fantasies, however, aren’t based in fact. Blosser couldn’t name any instances in which public records requests led to identity theft or other similar crimes.”
Finally, The Oregonian laid down some truth about why the Freedom Foundation’s mission is important and why it is vital to the public’s interest in disclosure:
“And whether Brown wants to admit it or not, the Freedom Foundation can make a credible argument for why access to employee information serves the public’s interest. The Freedom Foundation’s Oregon director said his group wants to alert employees about their options as a result of Janus – something the state has failed to do. The only communication from the Department of Administrative Services to workers has been a short email from Coba that advises those who have questions about Janus to reach out to their union. The email also includes a link to Brown’s joint statement, sending a not-so-subtle message to employees that their top boss fully expects that they will remain members.
Employees who are satisfied with the unions’ record in delivering benefits may come to that conclusion by themselves. Brown and the unions should give them the chance to do so.”
The complete editorial can be found here.