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Union Has Inside Track On APS Info

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Whether you get access to personal information for about 3,500 nonunion teachers at Albuquerque Public Schools depends on who’s asking.

If it’s a member of the general public, or Gov. Susana Martinez’s campaign strategist who would like to pitch the case for the governor’s reforms, it won’t happen.

If it’s a union leader who wants the information for organizing issues or to send a political message criticizing the governor’s reform agenda – an updated database of information will be provided within weeks of the first day of school each semester.

APS will deny any Inspection of Public Records Act request for teachers’ home addresses and phone numbers on file because that information is deemed private and protected, said APS spokesman Rigo Chavez.

But the Albuquerque Teachers Federation has a specific provision dealing with that kind of information in its collective bargaining agreement with APS – unlike Central New Mexico Community College and public school districts in Santa Fe and Rio Rancho.

The provision requires APS to submit to the union updated reports of all teachers’ home addresses, home phone numbers, Social Security numbers and educational experience at least 20 days after each school starts, Chavez said. The information is updated each January.

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein, who says home addresses are essential for the union to send political messages, put that information to use in a May 31 letter to nonunion teachers, as well as union members criticizing the state Public Education Department’s “reforms” and accusing the APS board of acting in bad faith.

Although Superintendent Winston Brooks said he was unaware of the practice, the APS spokesman said it is required.

“According to our negotiated agreement with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, we are required to provide that information,” Chavez said.

That means the union has exclusive access to personal contact information of all 7,260 APS teachers and union-eligible employees like counselors, although nearly half of those employees – 3,590 – choose to have no affiliation with the union.

The union can provide information to teachers through in-school mailboxes and school email, but personal contact information is needed to discuss politics, Bernstein said.

“Our political stuff – that’s an agreement we have – we don’t send anything where we endorse positions or candidates through school mail,” she said.

Bernstein said the personal information provided by the district is critical for the union to “organize and inform” eligible employees it represents. She said the union has a special right to the contact information because it represents all eligible employees and not just the ones paying dues.

“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. The union has had access to the information at least since Bernstein began teaching in the mid-1980s, she said.

She said the union removes teachers from its home mailings upon request, but those teachers are sometimes accidentally added back when the union receives an updated contact list.

Although the union regularly receives teachers’ Social Security numbers, Bernstein said it does not use them.

The district superintendent said he’s OK with the practice of releasing teachers’ home contact information to the union, adding that similar practices are done by other school districts in the U.S.

However, Brooks said the release of Social Security numbers is a concern he intends to address next time the union contract is reviewed.

“That bothers me, to be honest. That bothers me a lot,” Brooks said. “I am less bothered by name, address and phone number given that most of us who have a telephone get (our) name, address and phone number put in the phone book.”

Protected elsewhere

While Brooks cited the practice elsewhere, the APS agreement to share teachers’ personal information with the union is far from uniform in New Mexico.

At Rio Rancho Public Schools, for example, to protect employees’ privacy, that information is never given to the union representing Rio Rancho teachers, said district spokeswoman Kim Vesely.

Instead, the school provides the union only with work email addresses and a school-based mailing addresses for teacher contact, she said.

At Santa Fe Public Schools, the agreement with the National Education Association – the Santa Fe union’s collective bargaining organization – allows the union to reach teachers through bulletin boards and in-school mailboxes, but does not allow for release of personal information. Santa Fe district officials did not return requests for comment.

In 1998, Central New Mexico Community College, then known as TVI, fought off a legal challenge from the college’s American Federation of Teachers branch, attempting to force the college to release to the union personal information for the faculty.

The state Supreme Court ruled the college is not obligated to provide personal contact information to unions without the employees’ permission.

“Home addresses and phone numbers are items that would be protected as a result of that,” said Samantha Sengel, CNM’s chief communications and government relations officer.

The union filed a similar complaint last September with CNM’s labor management relations board, Sengel said. That action was denied in April.

But Bernstein said her union’s access to personal information is not unique.

“I think if you ask most unions, maybe not the ones you asked in New Mexico, but if you called the unions across the United States, they would say, ‘Of course we have access to this information. We have an obligation and a right to inform and to organize,’ ” she said.

Political fights

The Albuquerque teachers union’s access to teachers’ personal contact information drew scrutiny after a request for the information from Martinez’s private political adviser, Jay McCleskey, was denied by the state Public Education Department last month.

McCleskey said he hoped to send teachers political information on the benefits of proposed teacher evaluation programs being pushed by the Martinez administration.

Meanwhile, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, using its list of all APS teachers’ home addresses, sent a letter to teachers blasting the proposed teacher evaluation program and preparing protests for soon-to-be-announced hearings on the issue.

“As soon as we know (hearing dates), we will ask you – probably at a moment’s notice – to rally against the proposed changes,” Bernstein wrote in the May 31 union letter.

McCleskey said the union’s ability to use teachers’ contact information for political mailings, while other groups are denied the same information, is a double standard that prevents teachers from hearing both sides of a political bout.

“They don’t want teachers to hear both sides because if (teachers) hear both sides, they will be giving the union bosses an ‘F’ for accuracy,” McCleskey said.

The Albuquerque Teachers Federation president said attacks from the Martinez administration are really an effort to build anti-union sentiment.

“I think it’s an interesting conversation in the context we’re in, where there’s a war against employee unions. People are trying to diminish the rights of unions,” Bernstein said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal