Topeka Two state agencies said Monday that they have dropped a request that in-home health care providers turn over the names, phone numbers and addresses of their employees to help a union that was allied with former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
The Kansas Department on Aging and the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services said they are sending letters to more than 1,000 providers, canceling the request made in August.
They said they reconsidered after some providers protested and now believe state law allows the information to be withheld to protect employees’ privacy.
The agencies had sought the information for the Service Employees International Union, which never said specifically why it wanted to the information. Republican opponents to the request believe the union asked for the lists in order to help organize the workers.
“I’m glad they’ve seen the light,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. “They were using the power of their office, their letterhead, their regulatory authority, to get this information.”
Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson’s administration had faced weeks of criticism from leaders of the state House’s Republican majority, who raised privacy issues, saw the requests as demands and said the state shouldn’t be using its power to benefit the union.
Republicans also were suspicious because of past SEIU support for Sebelius, a Democrat who resigned as governor in April to become U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary. Campaign finance records show SEIU-affiliated groups contributed $31,000 to her 2006 re-election campaign and the union donated $100,000 in October 2008 to a political action committee she controlled.
SEIU spokeswoman Sadie Kliner said the union regularly communicates with health care workers about “issues affecting them and their families,” but would not specify why the union asked for the lists. She said the union made a legitimate request for information that should be available. She declined to say Monday how SEIU will respond to being denied the information.
Parkinson’s spokeswoman, Beth Martino, said the governor supports getting information about unions to workers, but believes the agencies are being cautious in reviewing legal questions.
“Our legal folks have been looking at this the whole time” because of providers’ concerns, said Department on Aging spokeswoman Barb Conant.
SRS sent letters to 960 providers and the Aging department sent them to 78. Both had asked for employee lists by Sept. 3.
Conant said eight providers provided the information to Aging, but several more protested. About two dozen gave the data to SRS, spokeswoman Michelle Ponce said, but others declined and raised legal issues.
Ponce noted that the Open Records Act says agencies can withhold information of “a personal nature” to prevent “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
O’Neal said he was more concerned that the information would be used for a private, commercial purpose — union organizing. He also said the Open Records Act generally doesn’t require an agency to collect information it doesn’t have, only to turn over documents in its possession.
“If they don’t have the information, they don’t have to provide it to you,” he said.