The State Worker: Union pushes bill to get CalPERS' mailing list

jortiz@sacbee.comApril 4, 2013 

With 1.6 million members, CalPERS has a huge mailing list that employee organizations have lusted after for years.

Now a measure by freshman Assemblywoman Shirley Weber would give groups that represent retirees some access.

Assembly Bill 785 forbids them from using the CalPERS mailing information to send out political mailers, but recruiting brochures, benefit pamphlets and the like are in bounds.

Materials that pass muster would go to a direct-mail firm picked by CalPERS and the member organization.

The contracted company would use the list to address the mailers. It would then destroy the information to keep it from misuse.

The retiree associations would have to pay "any and all reasonable expenses of the mailing," according to Weber's bill, and wouldn't have direct access to the mailing information itself. The bill doesn't require the groups to pay for the data.

Similar lists purchased from companies would cost "thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars," said Sacramento State marketing expert Dennis Tootelian, "and that's for each time you'd use it."

Those private mailing lists often contain errors, he said, whereas CalPERS' data – the foundation for distributing pension checks and important notices to members – is highly accurate.

And sortable. Income, gender, age – CalPERS has all that member information much more.

"Whew," Tootelian said Wednesday after thinking about it. "That's an A+ mailing list at zero cost."

The employee groups might even parlay the deal to make a few bucks.

Say the XYZ Retirees' Association fires off a recruiting mailer that highlights cruise discounts or preferred insurance rates for its members. It could do that in exchange for a fee from the cruise line and the insurance company.

"What a great business deal," Tootelian said. "The unions make the money and CalPERS gets nothing."

Members on the receiving end of the mail probably wouldn't even realize the CalPERS connection.

The bill says says the fund "shall not be required to notify an annuitant whose data is released to a mail processing center."

The State Worker called and emailed Weber's office for an interview about the measure, which is sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. In an email, Weber's staff said she was unavailable to answer questions.

Her office emailed a comment attributed to the San Diego Democrat: "Freedom of Assembly is a core American value. This bill will make it easier for retirees to come together and improve retirement securities for all middle-class families."

Tootelian, who is a CalPERS member, said he's unhappy that his pension fund might give away his personal information.

"I didn't sign up to make my personal information available to whatever these people might be hawking," he said. "I think it's a violation of privacy."

Call The Bee's Jon Ortiz, (916) 321-1043. Follow him on Twitter @thestateworker and read his blog, The State Worker.

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