By Anne Lowe

OPEN GOVERNMENT – The Service Employees International Union has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) due to a “lack of transparency” within the organization, which was recently made subject to the state's sunshine laws.

Randy Cheek, the legislative advocate for the employees’ union, said the SCIF board and administration have been less than forthcoming with documents and information that falls under the state’s public records and open meetings laws. Cheek said the union has had to file numerous requests to obtain the information.

The Worker’s Comp Executive reports that Cheek

let State Fund’s Board of Directors know publicly that the union had to file Public Records Act requests just to access what is discussed in closed sessions when the board meets. Cheek tells Workers’ Comp Executive that the board does not honor its pledge or requirement to be transparent.

 “We’ve been finding that there are things in closed session that shouldn’t be in closed session, things that deal with employee issues that affect the system statewide,” Cheek says. “We’ve been having to file Freedom of Information Act requests [to get the information].”

Cheek concedes that there are legitimate reasons for discussing some items in closed session, such as personnel matters related to discipline or pending litigation, but he doesn’t think many of the items qualify as confidential.

Cheek says that unless an employee from one of SEIU’s units reports that an audit is being done, the only heads-up is an agenda item listed for the general board meeting or one of the subcommittees. Then they are almost always closed. Furthermore, frequently subcommittees meet concurrently, making it difficult for members of the public to catch any information that can be shared.

“We usually send more than one person, but it’s harder for the public to do that,” Cheek says. “If you’re going to be open and transparent, I don’t know why you’re having meetings [at the same time]. Are you really being transparent?” State Fund spokeswoman Jennifer Vargen did not return calls to answer questions about meeting schedules.

The union finally filed an unfair practices charge after requests for information on Internet monitoring and State Fund location access were delayed. According to Cheek, a request for information on Internet monitoring took six months to be completed; a request for information on non-State Fund employee access to State Fund sites is still unanswered. According to the unfair-practice charge, SEIU says it made a request under the Public Records Act and Dills Act and sent both requests to their respective offices, as follows:

“Although SCIF was on notice of the Union’s Dill Act request since January 12th, SCIF responded by claiming that its Public Records Office was not responsible for handling Dills Act requests. SCIF further stated that the Union should contact Ms. Rowan [the labor relations manager]. The Union also sent a copy of its April 21st letter to Ms. Rowan. As of today, SCIF has failed to provide the information request.” The Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) still needs to act on the charge.

The request asked for information related to areas of access of State Fund locations by non-employees, including vendors; information related to access doors and entry points at State Fund by non-State Fund employees, including vendors; and any policies or memoranda related to access.

The PERB complaint points out that the information is necessary to make sure State Fund employees are treated the same way as non-State Fund employees. “Without the information requested, the Union cannot determine if contract violations or unfair practice charges are occurring at SCIF regarding access. This severely undercuts the Union’s ability to represent its members and enforce their rights,” it reads.