Bogged down in two lawsuits over the matter, the City of Portland has released the names of roughly 600 employees represented by a public-employee union to an anti-labor group.
As we reported last week, the city has freely released the names of union-represented employees in the past. But faced with a recent request from the right-wing Freedom Foundation, officials balked.
The city attorney's office denied the foundation's request for the names of employees represented by Laborers' Local 483. Then, when the Multnomah County District Attorney ordered the names be released, attorneys won approval from Portland City Council to appeal the matter in court.
The Freedom Foundation, which works to destabilize public sector unions, subsequently filed a lawsuit of its own, attempting to force the records' disclosure. It got them today.
"We didn’t get much of an explanation, they just suddenly decided to give it to us," says Ben Straka, a Freedom Foundation policy analyst who made the request. "I wish I had a better explanation why."
The stand-off between the city and the foundation was confusing. The Freedom Foundation put in a request for employees represented by Local 483. Straka says that was meant to cover both full-on union members and so-called "fair share" employees, who don't pay full union dues, but do contribute money to pay for bargaining.
The city's response said it was refusing to release the names of full-on union members. It directed Straka to identify all of the job classifications represented by the union, and then request a list of the employees that belonged to those classifications—a workaround that would have answered Straka's initial request.
Deputy City Attorney Heidi Brown tells the Mercury that the city decided to release the information on its own.
"They did not file a new request but that is what we gave them," Brown says. "Given all the misunderstanding in this, we just said we’ll give it to you at this time."
It's not totally clear what this means for the two lawsuits. Brown says the city is unwilling to drop its appeal of the DA order to release records, because it believes that order requires the city to specifically identify which employees are union members, and which are fair-share employees. Local 483 has argued such a disclosure would violate its members' privacy, and could lead the union to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the city.
Meanwhile, other jurisdictions have routinely released the names of union-represented employees.
The Freedom Foundation plans to use the roster of employees represented by Local 483 to help force a vote to "deauthorize" the union, which would free up employees to cease paying any amount for representation. To force such a vote, 30 percent of employees represented by the union would have to sign a petition by late November.