Education , Law & Principles

Trent England | December 17, 2015

Teacher’s stand against union reaches high court

Trent England

Can you be forced to fund a private, political organization as a condition for working for the government? Nearly 40 years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States reluctantly answered “yes” in a case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. While Oklahoma protects workers from being fired for opting out of union participation, many states do not. That practice and the Abood precedent may soon be overturned thanks to a group of California teachers.

Rebecca%20Friedrichs.pngOn January 11, the Court will hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The challenge, brought by Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other teachers, asks the United States Supreme Court to overturn Abood and protect public school teachers and other government employees from being forced to associate with or pay for unions.

Behind every court case is a story. This fall, I was able to sit down with Friedrichs and unpack her story on The Thoughtful Patriot.

Friedrichs first saw the reality of unions and teacher tenure in 1987 while student teaching. She witnessed a 6th-grade teacher in a nearby classroom who would grab students, drag them, yank them, and get in their faces to yell at them. And that was just what she could see. “Once that door was closed, I had no idea what went on,” Friedrichs recounts.

She brought the behavior up to her master teacher who sat her down and said, “Today, Rebecca, you learn about unions and teacher tenure.”

According to Friedrichs, the idea of tenure has morphed into permanency for teachers who are ineffective or even abusive.

“I had to speak up,” she says. “I even joined the union as a board member to try to make a difference from within, and that was a lesson in futility. I couldn’t make a dent at all. Even those who served with me and agreed with me were too afraid to question the union to speak up. So at that point, I started writing editorials to educate my community. And the next thing I knew, I had a chance to be a part of this wonderful lawsuit. I had a chance to hopefully be a part of something that grants freedom to Americans that should already be enjoying that freedom.

For 28 years, Friedrichs has been forced to fund a union that opposes her core values. If at any point she had stopped paying the union, she would have lost her job.

The same unions that threaten to have teachers fired also claim to speak for all teachers and provide certain services teachers do need. So how do we talk about this issue of unions in government workplaces? Can we break free from the assumption that opposition to union control is somehow opposition to teachers?

“A lot of teachers like their local union,” Friedrichs explains. “Most teachers I know have a problem with the larger state unions and the national affiliates.”

She also points out that some unions work hard to create discord. “They create an ‘us versus them’ mentality that is the picture that people get of all teachers. I don’t agree with those teachers, and I feel like the public doesn’t have the full picture of all teachers.”

Behind every case that reaches the Supreme Court, there is a real person. Rebecca Friedrichs is a teacher with a passion for serving kids and bringing liberty back into her workplace.

The current system of union control is only possible because of government policies. Politicians accept the demands of union bosses and force workers to pay union dues or fees. At the same time, the union bosses are often major contributors to the politicians’ campaigns. This perverts the original promise of unions. Instead of standing up for workers, many government unions work hand-in-hand with management (the politicians) and often advance the union bosses’ own ideological agenda. In some cases, this money cycle verges on legalized corruption at the expense of government employees, service recipients and taxpayers alike.

What does Rebecca Friedrichs say to other teachers? “Don’t be afraid. The unions control us by using intimidation and fear. Because of monopoly bargaining, we only get one side of the story; only the unions can educate us. So educate yourself and then educate the teachers in your life.”

Listen here to Rebecca’s full interview on The Thoughtful Patriot.

Trent England David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England

David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.

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