Brave teachers sue California union: ‘They are harming my students’

Robby Soave Reporter
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In April, a group of public school teachers filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against a powerful California teachers union — an organization that they contend has violated their First Amendment rights by forcing them to contribute money toward political causes with which they disagree.

Now, in an exclusive interview with The Daily Caller, lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs, shared why she believes the California Teachers Association and National Education Association have violated her free speech and free expression rights.

“They aren’t defending my interests,” she said. “I should be able to decide without fear of coercion whether I want a union to represent my needs.”

California is a “closed shop” state, meaning all public school teachers are forced to pay union dues, regardless of whether they wish to be in a union or not. The union then bargains on their behalf, and even lobbies for certain political outcomes that union leadership claims will help teachers.

But Friedrichs said she doesn’t agree with her union’s political advocacy or its collective bargaining efforts.

“Within collective bargaining, the union just continually pushes for teacher tenure,” said Friedrichs. “So you work three years and now you have a permanent job. Say you do something criminal or you’re just not a very strong teacher, and a better teacher comes along, say an outstanding teacher who is dynamic and children are learning, and … the school cannot let go of the tenured position. That’s troubling to me.”

Friedrichs opposes tenure and supports school choice vouchers, but her union lobbies for precisely the opposite causes. Not only does this hurt her students, but it violates her First Amendment rights, she said.

“I’ve been teaching for 26 years, and throughout those years I’ve been forced to pay dues to the union,” she said. “The union hierarchy, I don’t think they have any idea what goes on in the classroom. They obviously don’t understand the economy. They are harming my students.”

She isn’t the only one who feels that way. Friedrichs said she knows many teachers agree with her, and feel silenced by their union. Nine other teachers have joined her suit.

The Center for Individual Rights, an advocacy law firm, filed the suit on behalf of the teachers. CIR president Terry Pell told TheDC that the case is exciting because it raises questions that are purely constitutional.

“This case is about the free speech, free association rights of individual teachers to decide for themselves whether they want to join the union or whether they want to pay dues,” said Pell.

Since only the Supreme Court could decide such a significant First Amendment matter, Pell hopes to speed the case along as quickly as possible.

Earlier this month, federal district court proved amenable. Judge Josephine Staton allowed the case to proceed to the Ninth Circuit Court — the next step in its journey to the Supreme Court.

Whether the case makes it all the way — and whether the justices will be sympathetic — remains to be seen. But Pell thinks the conservative majority is very much open to his argument. In the 2012 case Knox v. SEIU, a five-justice majority essentially invited a challenge to mandatory dues collection, said Pell.

The ramifications of a favorable ruling would likely be dramatic, overturning mandatory collection of union dues throughout the country.

“We are going to get this case to the Supreme Court and win, and if we do, we will eliminate the close shop rules,” said Pell.

The suit is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. A Huffington Post article about the case called it an “existential threat” to forced unionization.

As for Friedrichs — who spent years trying to change the direction of her union from within — she’s happy to finally have an impact on an organization that confiscates $1,000 from her each year to lobby for causes she opposes.

“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity,” she said. “I’m glad we can have a voice in this process. We’re paying the bill.”

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