Ever solicitous of worker privacy, Democratic legislators approved a bill last month declaring that the “home addresses, home telephone numbers, personal cellular telephone numbers, and birth dates” of public employees are not public records, definitely not open to public inspection.
In this legislative session, some Democratic legislators are citing the California constitutional amendment protecting people’s right to privacy as they push bills seeking to limit the reach of internet giants into individuals’ personal information without their consent.
Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, voted to protect public employees from prying eyes, and might even vote for some of the privacy measures if they eke out of committee and make it to the floor. But then there is his Assembly Bill 1513. It goes in a different direction.
Introduced at the behest of organized labor, Kalra’s bill would require that employees of private firms, who care for elderly and infirm people in their homes, must divulge their cellphone numbers, mailing addresses and email addresses to unions that seek to organize them.
In an interview, Kalra said the point of the bill is to ensure workers receive adequate training. Hard to argue with that. People who provide care to our parents, grandparents and, ultimately, you and me, should be trained properly. The bill does make reference to the training. But that’s not the gist.
The California Department of Social Services licenses home care companies and keeps a register of their employees. While consumers can check to see if workers are properly vetted, AB 1513 would go further, requiring that the state “upon request, to a labor organization” provide worker’s “name, mailing address, telephone number, cellular telephone number, and email address.” Unions could use the information for “organizing, representation, and assistance activities.”
“The purpose is to provide for training,” Kalra said. “I do believe that organized labor provides the best training.”
Unions seeking to expand their membership can readily see that aging is a growth industry. Roughly 5 million Californians are 65 or older now. That will double by 2045, and reach 12 million by 2060. Of course, unions are looking to allies to help give them an edge as they seek to organize those workers, and Kalra definitely is an ally.
In the 2016 campaign, labor went all-in for Kalra, then a San Jose city councilman who defeated another Democratic member of the council, Madison Nguyen, in a race that cost more than $5 million. The interest groups were employing the technique perfected by the legendary lobbyist Artie Samish in the 1930s and ’40s. Select and elect. If interest groups select and elect the right candidate, they know how that person will act in office.
Speaking of tipping the scales, the Senate Human Services Committee, which will consider Kalra’s bill on Tuesday, had three Democrats and two Republicans until last week. In that configuration, the bill probably would have stalled.
But the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Senate President Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, removed one swing vote, Sen. Josh Newman, the Fullerton Democrat who is facing a recall, and added three more Democrats.
Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, had been a swing vote, and is less than pleased. “This bill steals the privacy rights of vulnerable, low-wage workers,” he said in a statement. Of the committee shake-up, he added: “It’s not healthy to change committee membership in the middle of the session for one bill benefiting a single interest.”
On the surface, Democratic legislators who only last month voted to protect public employees’ information could be viewed as inconsistent with legislators who this month might vote to expose private employees’ information. It is, in reality, perfectly consistent. It’s all about labor’s clout, and a national fight wending its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bill protecting public employees’ personal information would serve to restrict conservative organizations that seek to undermine public employee unions by contacting public servants and urging them to opt-out of paying dues that go for political activities.
The Service Employees International Union seemingly struck a blow for privacy by funding an initiative in Washington state last November to exempt from public disclosure information about public employees who provide in-home care. Their opponent, the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation, was urging public employees to stop paying union dues. The electorate sided with labor, and privacy.
Privacy, it would seem, is an issue that matters to voters.
Kalra acknowledged there are privacy concerns with his bill, and said he is “trying to thread that needle.” But in the Senate Human Services hearing Tuesday, the bill assumes workers will fork over their personal information, rather than granting them the power to specifically request that their information be shared, or not.
It’s a matter of respect. Just as consumers shouldn’t be expected to give up their personal information when they log onto the internet, private company employees shouldn’t be expected to give up their personal information simply because they need a job. Our state would be better off if strong unions represented more workers in private industry. But organizing should be between unions, workers and the companies that employ them, not government and not Ash Kalra.