Nothing so perfectly encapsulates the through-the-looking-glass nature of Washington state politics as how it treats the contact information of its government employees.
By any fair reading of the state’s public disclosure laws, the name, address, birthdate, etc., of every person drawing a salary from the taxpayers should be 100 percent disclosable to anyone who asks for it. And for anyone but the Freedom Foundation, it probably would be.
But pretty much every time we file a legal public information request for an employee database, the agency in question caves to pressure from public-sector unions to decline it. They cite a variety of bogus reasons for their action, such as concerns we’ll sell the information to a third party — but the truth is even more terrifying to them.
They know we’ll inform their members that, according to the First Amendment, they can’t be forced to join or pay dues to a labor union.
The government officials who deny our information requests know they’re breaking the law, but it costs them nothing and forces us to spend months or years waiting for the courts to award us what we were entitled to all along.
The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) Council 28, and approximately 50 other unions, for example, tried to deny a Freedom Foundation request, arguing it would expose the victims of domestic violence to their abusers.
Not even the notoriously leftwing Washington State Supreme Court could stomach that claim, and in August it issued a ruling in the Freedom Foundation’s favor.
In the meantime, the Washington State Legislature enacted a law allowing employees to request their personal information be exempt from disclosure if they can show that releasing it would put them at risk.
Sydney Phillips, deputy chief litigation counsel for the Freedom Foundation, debunks this as a “smokescreen,” saying, “There are — and always have been — ample provisions in the law to protect people whose safety is genuinely at risk.”
This year, Washington’s Legislature reinforced its obvious double standard by passing HB1200, which mandates that employers provide extensive, non-public personal contact information (including social security numbers per WFSE’s labor contract) of public employees to labor unions every 120 days — even for those who’ve opted out of union membership.
The deeply troubling nature of HB1200 is starkly illuminated by the experience of a state Human Resources employee who had opted out of SEIU 925. Despite her choice to leave the union, she found herself legally obligated to submit not just her own private information, but also that of her coworkers, to SEIU.
“I know this is a result from HB1200,” she said, “but I’m very uncomfortable with the union collecting my personal information. I opted out to distance myself from SEIU. It’s just so wrong.”
This situation not only lays bare the insidious double standard and the favoritism toward big labor that HB1200 perpetuates, but it also underscores why the Freedom Foundation’s mission is so vital.