The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled today that the names of public employees must be released as public records, despite a union agreement to the contrary.
The decision came in a case centering around two records requests: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had sought the names of employees who lost the privilege of driving state-owned vehicles because of a poor driving record, while the Lakeland Times wanted the names of Department of Natural Resources employees.
Both requests were denied because a collective bargaining agreement between the union-represented employees and their employer, the state of Wisconsin, exempted the names from release under the open records law. The unions and the state argued the contractual agreement superseded the statute requiring the names to be public, essentially creating an exemption to the statute.
In a 6-1 decision by the state’s highest court, Justice Patience Drake Roggensack said the law and public policy favored the release of the names, despite the state and union’s arguments that they could contract around the open records statute.
“In light of these express statutory policies, we cannot accept WSEU’s argument that parties may, through the collective bargaining process, contract away the public’s rights under” the state open records law, she wrote. “To hold otherwise would be contrary to the public interest, and would have the potential to eviscerate the Public Records Law through private agreements.”
The Reporters Committee, along with several news organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the newspapers.