Rebecca Friedrichs, The Teacher Who Took On Big Labor
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide by the end of April whether to hear a case that could end mandatory union membership for all government workers.
Rebecca Friedrichs is the teacher at the center of it all.
“The union runs everything,” Friedrichs, a teacher of 27 years, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There’s something wrong when the majority of resources, the whole machine, is geared at serving employees, not students.”
It all started when Friedrichs, who teaches out of Buena Park, Calif., learned the union culture benefited its members at the expense of the students. Despite her disagreement with the California Teachers Association, she was forced to continue paying into it.
Eventually this led her and nine other teachers to sue the CTA and its affiliate, the National Education Association. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association goes beyond just public school teachers however. A verdict in favor of Friedrichs and the other teachers involved could result in all government workers gaining the right to stop paying union fees.
“I’m hoping we will be a huge step in restoring liberty,” Friedrichs declared. “I hope we’ll start a ball rolling towards more freedom.”
Friedrichs recalls her first encounter with the union culture when she was an assistant teacher at the beginning of her career. At the time she noticed the teacher that worked in the classroom next to hers was abusive towards her students. When Friedrichs tried to do something about it she quickly found out nothing could be done because the teacher was protected by the union.
“They couldn’t get rid of her because of teacher tenure,” she noted. “There was absolutely nothing, from my perspective and what I was told, that I could do.”
Determined to do right by the students, Friedrichs wasn’t willing to give up. In the hopes of fixing the problems from within, she volunteered with the union.
“I volunteered serving within the union because I wanted to improve it from within,” Friedrichs explained. “I found I couldn’t help from within and I was actually bullied.”
She found the problem existed within the union ranks. While a lot of the local union officials and her fellow teachers were responsive, the officials higher up within the union ranks undermined real reform. The refusal to help and the bullying tactics made many teachers afraid to speak out against the union.
“There is an undercurrent of fear within the union,” Friedrichs stated. “Everyone knows it.”
Friedrichs recalled one year when it got particularly bad. It all started when the union asked the teachers to sign a petition to oppose school vouchers during a meeting. The program would give many students the ability to attend private school. When Friedrichs refused to sign on, noting her own reasons to support school choice, a union official called her out in front of all the other teachers at the meeting. For the rest of the year she was bullied by those in support of the union.
“They punished me for standing up,” Friedrichs declared. “For that whole year, for that whole fight, I was treated like dirt.”
With very little left to do, around 2009 Friedrichs began writing about the problems that forced unionization caused. This led to her eventually getting in contact with the Christian Educators Association International, an alternative to the NEA, where she met the nine other teachers that would become part of the lawsuit to end forced union dues.
“I am not anti-union at all, I came from a union family,” Friedrichs noted. “I am against forced unions.”
“Unions, like any group, should have to earn members,” she added.
The lawsuit was filed in April of 2013. It argues that the California law which allows for mandatory union membership is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment rights. In January of 2015, the teachers petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their arguments against the law and to overturn it.
Since filing the lawsuit, Friedrichs notes the reaction has been generally respectful. Many teachers have even come to her to show their support but because of the union culture, they tend to only talk with her in private.
“I know a lot of teachers who are apolitical,” she noted. “I believe we are a voice for the voiceless.”
Friedrichs is optimistic that the Supreme Court will take up their case and that after hearing the arguments will come down in favor of them. She points towards Judge Samuel Alito as showing real interest in addressing legal problems that currently exists in labor law.
“I think he’s motivated to hear our case,” Friedrichs stated. “So he can judge fairly and hear the facts.”
As the case nears, Friedrichs notes she has no plans to stop teaching but rather do her best to balance everything.
“I don’t plan on taking a break,” she noted. “I don’t have an option not to work.”
Teachers are allowed to leave their union but are still forced to pay fees. If they leave they lose their liability services and the ability to talk at union meetings. Since public school teachers are government workers, a verdict in favor of Friedrichs is likely to set a precedent allowing all government workers to stop paying union dues or fees.
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