One of the many misguided proposals working its way through the Washington State Legislature this session is SB 6079, a bill that would exempt the birth dates of public employees from being released under the state Public Records Act (PRA).
Introduced by Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), the measure is one of several bills backed by government unions attempting to undermine the pending U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which most observers expect will result in public employees being allowed to choose for themselves whether to join and financially support a labor union.
Blocking additional information about public employees from disclosure would make it more difficult for the Freedom Foundation to communicate with union-represented public employees about their rights.
Unions have made the intent of the legislation crystal clear by regularly naming the Freedom Foundation in their communications about the bill. The website for the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) claims SB 6079 is needed,
…to protect your date of birth from release to the Freedom Foundation and others who intentionally or unintentionally could use that information to harm you and yours… legislators need to hear from you about the risks and safety threats you’d face if the Freedom Foundation and others get their way.
WFSE is so far off the fear-mongering deep end that it has claimed an unrelated bill to prevent the state from releasing information about public employees who report sexual harassment is needed to protect these whistleblowers from being targeted by the Freedom Foundation.
RCW 42.56.250 already prevents most information about public employees from being disclosed. In general, the only information that can be released is an employees’ name, birthdate, and work email address. Employees of criminal justice agencies have additional protections against the disclosure of their birthdates and photographs. Under RCW 42.56.070, lists of employees cannot be released for commercial purposes.
While generalized fears of identity theft are common in this day and age, having access to someone’s name and date of birth alone is insufficient to engage in malfeasance. The Freedom Foundation has been involved in litigation and legislative debates with state employees’ unions about this issue for several years. In that time, unions have yet to produce a single documented case of someone using a list of public employees obtained via a public records request for nefarious purposes.
Many do not realize that the complete list of the several million registered voters in Washington is publicly available from the Secretary of State and contains not just name and date of birth, but mailing address as well. Secretary of State Kim Wyman recently told the Seattle Times that her office is unaware of any instance in which the information has been used to commit identity theft.
Exempting additional information about public employees from disclosure under the PRA would do little to protect anyone, but would hamper the Freedom Foundation’s ability to communicate with public employees as well as the ability of the press and government watchdogs to accurately report on the activities of public employees.
As a result, the legislation is opposed by a host of newspapers and government transparency advocates like the Washington Coalition for Open Government.
Most major newspaper editorial boards have strongly condemned the proposal at least once:
- Seattle Times editorial board, “Open records are in the public’s best interest,” Feb. 19, 2018.
- Seattle Times editorial board, “State Democrats are on the wrong side of open-records fight,” Feb. 12, 2018.
- Seattle Times editorial board, “Don’t gut Public Records Act in an attempt to protect public employees’ identities,” Jan. 29, 2018.
- Lewis County Chronicle editorial board, “Inslee and Company Choose Unions Over the Rest of Us,” Feb. 16, 2018.
- Tacoma News Tribune editorial board, “Birthdates must stay in public records,” Feb. 14, 2018.
- Tri-City Herald editorial board, “Lawmakers are trying to eliminate key part of public records law; we say that’s wrong,” Feb. 6, 2018.
- Everett Herald editorial board, “No need to conceal state employees’ birthdates,” Feb. 2, 2018.
- Walla Walla Union-Bulletin editorial board, “Changes to Open Records Act misguided,” Feb. 1, 2018.
- The Olympian editorial board, “Protect workers, but don’t lose accountability,” Jan. 30, 2018.
- Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board, “Legislature should resist more limits on public records,” Jan. 30, 2018.
Also, in a letter to the editor published in the Tacoma News Tribune, a former state employee called out unions’ hypocrisy on the subject of employees’ personal information, explaining:
…While unions pretend to be concerned about employee privacy, they routinely obtain lists of employees from the state which include personal information — such as home addresses — without employee permission.
Since unions are private, non-governmental organizations just like the Freedom Foundation and the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, all such private organizations should have identical access (or non-access) to personal information.
The state has long colluded with unions to prevent employees from being given information about their right to work for their own state government without paying a private organization like a union for the privilege of doing so…
The Freedom Foundation is attempting to supply information that the state itself should provide if it were an honest employer.
Instead, Democratic legislators continue to try to block all avenues of non-union communication with bills such as SB6079.
In some cases, the state even provides unions with employees’ Social Security numbers.
SB 6079 was passed along party lines in the Democrat-controlled Senate and is currently working its way through the House, also controlled by a narrow Democrat majority.
Tell Washington legislators to oppose SB 6079