By MIKE YESTRAMSKI
President, WFSE/AFSCME Council 28
OLYMPIA (Dec. 18, 2019) — According to a narrow (5-4) Washington Supreme Court ruling, state employees’ birth dates are currently subject to public disclosure. Anyone can request a public employee’s date of birth as a matter of public record — a significant breach of personal privacy and safety.
Dissenting Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote in response to the ruling, “Disturbing results will follow if this personal information is not protected by our state agencies. Criminals need not hack the government’s servers to get personal information when all they need to do is submit a [Public Records Act] request. Their victims will be none the wiser.”
TAKE A STAND — This critical issue may be stymied in the courts, but here’s what you can do today: Contact your legislators and ask them to support House Bill 1888, legislation that would revise our state’s outdated public disclosure law and keep your birth date private.
We take intrusions into our private affairs, personal information, and personal safety very seriously. We have made numerous attempts in the courts, including cases at all levels of the state court system, to curb these abuses of the Public Records Act — particularly by organizations desiring to harass public employees about their union membership.
Groups like the Freedom Foundation misuse the provisions of the Public Records Act to gather public employees’ personal information and contact them in hopes of persuading them to give up their voices at work. Freedom Foundation Vice President Brian Minnich has said that disclosure of public employees’ birth dates “upholds Washington’s strong tradition of open government.”
But transparency in government was never meant to endanger those dedicated enough to serve our state.
Unfortunately, because of the broad sweep of the state Public Records Act, the courts have been unwilling to rein in this misuse. They have routinely said that such concerns must be dealt with in the Legislature by changing the law to provide greater protections to employees. Tell your legislators to stand up for your safety and privacy.
We are continuing to pursue every option to keep members’ data safe. You can help by contacting your legislators and voicing your concern. Together we can stop inappropriate disclosure of our personal information and preserve our constitutional rights to privacy, free speech and association.
Mike Yestramski is President of Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME Council 28. This column was originally posted at WFSE.org and posted here with the author’s permission.