This week I had the opportunity to chat with Rebecca Friedrichs, an educator in California who is stepping up to union intimidation in her state. She is the lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which she is suing the organization for having to accept compulsory union dues which are often used for political causes she disagrees with. She explained the implications of the case and the union bullying tactics she and her fellow teachers deal with on a daily basis.
Can you explain why you’re suing the CTA?
“Many of us don’t agree with what they’re pushing. Not just for myself, but for many people I know that are teachers. It’s very offensive to all of us. So here we are, just each individual little teacher, we don’t have a powerful voice as individuals. And this union would come together to give us a collective voice, but for many of us they have taken away our voice. Because they’re representing us in a way that we’re not asking to be represented. And then using our money to pay for it.”
What are a few specific agenda items you disagree with?
“The new Common Core. Oh my goodness, the teachers union backed that [...] I’m totally against Common Core, being forced to implement it, testing my students and I’m really concerned about it. Another one is Obamacare. The unions backed Obamacare heavily, multiple millions, including Obama – they put Obama in office as well. The unions are against vouchers, I’m so much for vouchers because they would provide – especially poor children – but I think all families should have the right to escape low-performing schools or to make choices for their own children’s education [...] The unions keep coming out, multiple millions against vouchers. I’ve listened to their debates over it and I cannot figure out what they have against vouchers. The studies show that you can educate children for about half the price. And I think the unions are against vouchers because, they wouldn’t be able to control so many teachers being in the union, you know if there was more freedom in education. I think it’s a way they are protecting their own organization. They’re not protecting teachers and students – they’re protecting themselves. It’s coming out in a negative way. I would love to have more choice in the schools that I could work at too. I don’t have a choice. We don’t have very many charter schools around here and we don’t have a voucher system in California.”
You describe a confusing opt-out process. Once a teacher does manage to opt out of paying dues, explain how the union treats them.
“When we go through that process, people don’t understand, they think we’re opting out of all of the dues, but we’re not. We’re allowed to opt out of the portion that the union admits to being political. We get a rebate of about 35 percent. My dues are about $1,000, I’ll get back about $350, the other $650 goes to the union because they claim that is for collective bargaining. But our big argument is there is no way they are spending 65 percent on collective bargaining. There’s just not enough collective bargaining going on – especially in my district. It’s mostly volunteer teachers that are doing our collective bargaining. So we’re arguing a lot of the collective bargaining is really political. For example this tenure. I’m sure you’ve heard about all the teachers who are child molesters and other horrific things. The unions come by and support them, well that’s because of tenure and that’s a collective bargaining issue. So I feel like that’s political. At this point we can’t get out of paying them, so I cannot avoid supporting that pedophile teacher with my dues. So that’s offensive to me.
So once we do, it’s called opting out and becoming an agency fee payer, when you pay the 65 percent. And what they do is, the best way I can describe it is, go back to middle school or high school in your brain, and you know the cliques that are on campus – the “cool” people and the “uncool” people – that’s how it feels. If you’re a fee payer, all of a sudden you’re on the outside of the clique. You’re not trusted, you’re considered a danger to the union, you’re not part of the club. ‘What do you have against us? Why don’t you want teachers to get raises or better medical’ – or whatever.
So they’ll twist it, they’ll say somebody like myself is against unions instead of, ‘No I’m against my money going to political causes. Sadly, what’s going on is the union, because of collective bargaining, has powerful control over our district email and district mailboxes. So if you were to come and advertise to teachers, anything. Let’s say you were advertising life insurance and wanted to put that in our email box, you wouldn’t be allowed to do that, because only the union can communicate with us. You can obviously send something in the mail, they can’t open it up and break federal law, but most people want to send an email because it’s free. What happens is the union is the only voice teachers are allowed to hear. Unless they’re like me and they’re really involved in reading the paper. Even say a teacher who is the union president for the district. Most of them, a great majority, have no idea our money’s being used for politics.”
In general, how do unions harm the students?
Friedrichs answered by describing the war on vouchers.
“I think parents should be the ones who have choices in education. Our Constitution states that education should be at the local level. Unions are pushing for national education, national curriculum, Common Core. Unions are the reason we have the National Department of Education. The first presidential candidate the unions ever backed was Jimmy Carter – and when he won, he returned the favor, opening up the National Department of Education. From my understanding, the National Education Association (NEA) is really, heavily impacted by information from the teachers union. They’re really part of this nationalized education, which I believe harms children, very much so. Sex offenders – that harms children. So you have unions backing – tenure was originally created to give teachers the right to freedom of speech. Like me right now, I’m speaking out. I can’t be fired for that because I have tenure. That’s a good thing. But what happens is tenure has morphed into permanency. So unions look at tenure as permanent jobs. So that’s why they back these sex offenders. Recently, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Wisconsin teacher who sexually harassed a student for years. The unions were the ones defending him. The student was further injured because of the unions defending, the parents were injured. It was horrible. I saw them interviewed on Fox News, I cried listening to it."
Friedrichs was explaining the incident in which a teacher at the Glacier Creek Middle School in Wisconsin was
“Over and over again, the unions defend them and it costs the school districts millions to get rid of them. All that money could be going to the classrooms. Not to mention, getting those people out of the classrooms faster. Tenure makes it nearly impossible for principals and administrators to fire people. They have to come up with facts and evidence. Their entire class is negatively impacted. It’s really killing morale on campuses across America, the way administrators are reacting to that is, ‘Okay we’re just not gonna give tenure out anymore.’ So, a lot of these new teachers who are fantastic are being laid off after two years of teaching because you know the district has to give them tenure so quickly. ‘Oh it’s too risky to give them tenure, so we’re gonna let them go. Or, they have to keep these low performing teachers that have tenure, can’t get rid of them. Their enrollment isn’t high enough, they have to get rid of somebody, so ‘last in, first out.’ So, they get rid of all the teachers last hired who might be the most fantastic teacher on the campus.”
Are you encouraged that children are getting involved in cases against unions, such as in Vergara v. California?
“I’m so excited, I’m cheering for those kids - cheering for them 100 percent. I’m also cheering for home health care workers in the case Harris v. Quinn, who are dealing with forced unionization. Parents are fighting back.”
Is it true the union is using your dues money to fund their side of the court battle?
“The unions use our dues money for everything they do. They claim 35 percent is used for politics, we get an annual booklet, supposedly to tell us where the political monies are going. Only it never gives me a detailed description of where the money went. It’ll just say, ‘Oh this money was used for ‘civil rights.’ Then it’ll say how much money I have to use as a percentage. When I go through that, the stuff that I’m paying for is so obviously political. Anything used to run the union, I’m paying for all of that. And so this court case, it’s not considered political. It hasn’t shown up in my annual “Hudson notice.” That kills me – my money and the money of the other nine plaintiffs - we’re all paying lawyers to fight us. The irony is unreal. I don’t know how I can prove that, they convolute things so much, but it’s not considered a political battle, so there you go.”
Are you hopeful you can win the case?
“Were really hopeful, because it seems like the American people are starting to see that unions aren’t what they used to be. There are other cases similar to ours. In Knox v. SEIU in 2012, the employees won. Alito said it was an infringement on employees’ rights. That case is the reason we’re even here [...] We keep seeing more cases across the country where people are starting to say we’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of my money being forcibly taken from me. And I think the country’s starting to wake up to the collective unions’ agenda and how hostile it is for our country and so I do think we have a really strong chance. I hope so!”
Being a part of a union sounds like such a huge burden. And you said you’ve been a teacher for 26 years. Even with all this union intimidation, what motivates you to still be a teacher?
“I love teaching. I love my students, I love watching their bright eyes light up when they ‘get it.’ I love encouraging them, I love confirming them, and seeing them grow [...] There are some teachers out there who kind of rob children of their passion. I feel like I’m a teacher who inspires kids. I love to inspire them, not only to learn, but fall in love with reading and to become everything they dream of becoming. The unions have done a lot of things to undermine that but I feel like the kids are worth it. So I just hold my head up high. I’ve done my best to communicate with the unions. I’ve tried to be a leader for three years and tried to make a difference on the inside and there’s no desire from the union point of view, they just don’t want to hear it. They have their agenda and they’re gonna push it. I’m not gonna let them stop me from inspiring my students. I think the kids are worth the battle. If teachers don’t stand up, what’s gonna happen to these kids? How worse is it gonna get?”
Where does the case stand now?
“Well, we wrote an amicus brief for Harris v. Quinn. So, we’re in a holding pattern, not advancing, waiting for decision in the Harris case, which will come down by the end of June.”
I also had a phone conversation with Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights who is a co-counselor for the plaintiffs in this case. He discussed the legal implications of the case and what a win on behalf of the teachers could mean for the country.
Why did you decide to get involved in this case?
“If we’re successful, the case will strike down compulsory union due laws in 26 states in one fell swoop. This really would upend national policy respect to compulsory dues.
Every public employee will get to decide for themselves whether to join the union. Many teachers will decide that the union represents the union and decide to join. So essentially this takes the decision out of the hand of state legislators and judges and put in the hands of the individuals on the front lines and we think that’s a big step forward. If we’re successful teachers will be able to hold people accountable, they’ll be able to vote with their feet if they think union policies are undermining children.”
If you’re successful, what kind of national precedent will this set?
“As things exist now, people who disagree with compelled union dues have to fight state by state. Instead of attacking collective bargaining or attacking the union, we’re instead strengthening the free speech right of individual teachers to decide for themselves whether they want to support the union’s collective bargaining. Instead of a one-size-fits-all policy that’s enforced by state law, were putting decisions back in the hands of teachers. So it avoids the very contentious political fights about the rights of unions and instead focuses on the right of individual teachers to decide for themselves whether to support the union.”