Teachers’ personal info is a hot commodity
Two situations that have recently made headlines show how sought-after teachers’ personal information is. Teachers, like the students they work so hard to educate, are caught in the middle of a war.
I didn’t know until this weekend that, if you want to be an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher, you have to give up your right to keep personal information private.
As the Albuquerque Journal reported, the APS contract with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation requires the district to “submit to the union updated reports of all teachers’ home addresses, home phone numbers, Social Security numbers and educational experience” twice a year.
In the case of those who vote to join the union – about half of the district’s 7,260 eligible teachers and other employees – that’s perfectly understandable. They join a group that is authorized to bargain on their behalf and it gets their personal information primarily so it can contact them outside school. Fine.
But what about the other half, those who choose to not join the union? I understand that they still benefit from the union’s bargaining, but does that give APS the right to waive their legal right to privacy without their consent?
A legal right to privacy is exactly what’s at stake. APS considers employees’ home addresses, home phone numbers and Social Security numbers exempt from release under the Inspection of Public Records Act and won’t give them to anyone else. But the union contract says APS shall give them up, so give them up APS does.
If I was a non-union member who didn’t particularly like the union, or being solicited in general, I think I’d be upset. If I was a non-union member who didn’t agree to the release of my Social Security number and had a past experience with identity theft, I think I’d be livid.
The union could argue that it has a duty to inform non-union members of the increased benefits they receive after a new contract is negotiated. In fact, that’s what ATF President Ellen Bernstein was quoted by the Journal as saying.
“It’s a federal law that we negotiate (a bargaining agreement) for everybody, so we have an obligation and a right to inform everybody,” Bernstein said.
If that were all her organization sought to use non-union personal information for, I don’t think I’d see a problem.
But the union is using non-union teachers’ home addresses to influence opinion and organize, not just to disseminate information. In a May 31 letter, it attacked the state Public Education Department’s teacher evaluation proposal, saying a call for nominations to serve on an advisory council is a suspected “façade, intended to hide the fact that the team is probably preselected to do work that has a predetermined outcome.”
AFT will call on employees “to rally against the proposed changes,” the letter stated. It also urged non-union members to “join today.”
Guv’s political advertiser also wants info
That’s not the only concerning situation related to teachers’ information to recently come to light. The Public Education Department compiled a statewide list of teachers’ government e-mail addresses earlier this year and then divided it by unionized and non-unionized districts. It sent the list to Gov. Susana Martinez’s political adviser, Jay McCleskey, who runs her political action committee and isn’t a state employee.
The move has caused quite a stir, leading to an attorney general investigation and accusations from the American Federation of Teachers and others that McCleskey is plotting a political attack using government resources.
The list didn’t include personal information. PED denied McCleskey’s second request for home addresses. All PED did was put publicly-accessible information together in one document. Staffers took teachers’ government e-mail addresses off public websites and divided them up based on which districts have union contracts and which do not.
PED spokesman Larry Behrens said the list was compiled before McCleskey made his request. And McCleskey said the list Behrens sent him wasn’t what he wanted, which is why he followed up with a second request for teachers’ addresses.
But in a statement to NMPolitics.net, McCleskey acknowledged that he suggested PED should create a statewide list of teachers.
“I have long believed that information about PED efforts on education reform is not being accurately disseminated from union officials and administrators to classroom teachers and have freely shared my opinion that direct communication is the logical solution, whether e-mail or otherwise,” he said. “That’s simply good policy and commonsense.”
McCleskey said the list he requested “for political purposes” – the list of teachers’ addresses – “is nothing like the list PED developed for their own use.” He said a list “to be used for political purposes would necessarily be of personal contact information, not government contact information, and the only way to accurately update a voter file with any public list would be by matching the registered address.”
So, he said, it’s “completely illogical” to accuse PED staffers of compiling a political list when it contained no personal information.
Still, there’s the fact that Behrens divided the list by unionized and non-unionized districts. If I were a unionized teacher, I would probably suspect a political motive. Even if it doesn’t contain the personal information needed to contact teachers, such a list is a good starting point for an attempt to contact, for example, non-union teachers who might be friendlier to Martinez’s proposals.
There’s nothing wrong with McCleskey using such information if it’s available in the public record, regardless of his motive. But if PED used government resources to compile the list for the governor’s political machine, that might be illegal.
Caught in the middle of a war
The AG is investigating the possibility that PED staffers violated the Governmental Conduct Act by compiling the list of teachers for political purposes. And, back to the ATF issue, the Journal quoted APS Superintendent Winston Brooks as saying he will raise his concern about giving the union Social Security numbers next time the contract is negotiated.
Both are positive steps that help air out these important issues. The union’s access to the personal information of APS employees who didn’t consent to it being shared is concerning. And though employees can opt out of ATF mailings, Bernstein acknowledged that they are inadvertently put back on the list sometimes. Besides, even if they opt out, ATF still has their personal information.
And on the PED issue, even if Behrens and others didn’t have a political motive, their actions created the appearance of one. In addition to the dividing of the list into union and non-union districts, the fact that Behrens sent the list to McCleskey from his personal e-mail account and copied a number of Martinez administration officials on their accounts creates the appearance that this deed was intended to be off the books. Behrens has said he should have sent the list from his government e-mail account.
Most unionized teachers may think the PED situation is far worse. And perhaps non-union teachers see the release of their personal information to the union as the larger offense. I think issues in both situations are questionable.
At the end of the day, both are about lobbying teachers in a polarizing battle over education reform. There’s much at stake and tensions are high. Teachers, like the students they work so hard to educate, are caught in the middle of a war.
I’ve been discussing the issue with several people in recent days. One teacher’s comment to me stood out.
“I think teachers are smart enough to read and don’t need either unions or public officials – certainly not McCleskey – telling us what to think,” the teacher told me.
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