Cheering for Rebecca Friedrichs

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  I noted with some interest this week the suit between a California teacher and her union; Rebecca Friedrichs and ten of her colleagues are suing the NEA and its affiliate, the California Teachers Association to “obtain freedom from compelled support for unionism.”  Alec Torres wrote about this suit in December:

Over the past 26 years, Rebecca Friedrichs has been forced, as a condition of her employment, to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a private organization whose actions she largely does not support. As an elementary-school teacher in the Savanna School District of Buena Park, Calif., she has more than $1,000 automatically taken out of her salary every year and given to teachers’ unions. Faced with year after year of compulsory payments, Friedrichs is now on a path to end this union coercion.

California is not a “right to work” state and so Ms. Friedrichs and other teachers in her state are compelled to join a union.

A California teacher has filed a lawsuit against her union that claims she was cut off from benefits and from having a vote on the contract because she did not want her dues spent on political causes she did not support.

“There’s this undercurrent of fear and intimidation,” said Rebecca Friedrichs, whose suit seeks an exemption from union financial obligations since she is receiving no benefits from the union–political or non-political. “If you’re not in step with what the union’s doing, if you stand against it, you’re not a part of the club. You’re bullied. It’s very intimidating.”

In addition, she objects to the union’s involvement in political activities such as lobbying:

“What troubles me is the union is so involved in politics that they use our money to put a lot of those government officials into their jobs. Now the union is bargaining with officials who have been put in their spot by union money, and they’re union-friendly,” she said. “You have union-friendly officials on the other side, and taxpayers aren’t represented, and they’re bargaining with taxpayer money. I think that’s political.”

The suit, which you can read here,  hopes to overturn the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

For my part, I’m very sympathetic with Ms. Friendrichs.  I live in Louisiana and I have the right in my state to be a member of no union whatsoever if that’s my choice.

When I started teaching 18 years ago, I was young and stupid and joined NEA because my principal at the time said it was a good idea and that everyone should be a member of a “professional organization.”  I signed right on up and paid hefty dues that were drafted right out of my check every month.

I never thought much about it after that.

But in 2011 I saw the light; I got an email from NEA saying that not only were they endorsing Obama in 2012 (again) but that individual member donations to their PAC would be doubled to ensure his re-election.  I literally got nauseous and got on the phone to drop my membership as fast as I could.

I moved my membership to a non-political professional organization that focuses on education and teacher support rather than funding charlatan politicians.

Friedrichs believes that most teachers are apolitical and that the unions have lost focus:

Friedrichs said that the union might have an easier time recruiting teachers if it served the interests of the students, rather than its own coffers.

I don’t know about the apolitical part, but I agree with her that the purpose of the NEA should not be to handpick candidates or coerce affairs outside of the needs of the teachers and students.  As I said, they lost me when they took my dues to fund their own candidate choice, one to whom I was totally opposed.

I hope Friedrichs and her colleagues win their suit and that forced union membership dies.  It’s an infringement against one’s very basic right of free speech and choice.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.