Rebecca Friedrichs is no stranger to controversy. A teacher and former union member, her case against the California Teachers Association will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court and could have historical impact on union membership rules for educators.
Rebecca has been bullied and praised for her stance against what she feels is unfair treatment by the powerful teachers union.
Read on and enjoy getting to know Rebecca as we did, find out about her union experiences and why she's cheering for you!
Free to Teach (FTT): Could you tell us about your career as a teacher?
Rebecca Friedrichs (RF): I started teaching in 1988, so this is my 28th year. I teach elementary school, so I teach the children all of the subjects. I’ve taught kindergarten, first, second, third and fourth grades. Currently I’m teaching third grade.
FTT: What would you tell other teachers who are deciding whether or not to join a union or to resign their membership?
RF: I would recommend that teachers learn the facts about where their dues are being spent. If they’re comfortable with the expenditures, then they probably feel good about being in the union. If they’re not comfortable with the expenditures or the political activities of the union, I would recommend that they express their feelings to their leadership and exercise their rights to “opt out.” I would be very honest with them and make them aware of the following:
- Those who exercise their right to “opt out” are often treated with disdain by the union leadership and some members.
- Teachers are only permitted to “opt out” of the portion of the dues that the union admits to being “overtly political.” When they opt out, they become “agency fee payers.”
- I would teach them how to opt out because they will not be able to obtain that information from their union reps or school districts.
- Fee payers still pay 100% of the collective bargaining (CB) dues, but they will lose their vote in CB, lose their right to serve within union leadership, and lose all benefits of membership, including their liability insurance.
- They can obtain even better liability insurance from outside sources, and use their refunded political dues to pay for it.
FTT: What’s your experience been like as a fair share fee payer?
RF: As a “fair share payer,” I have been bullied at times, and I’ve been ostracized, but I have peace of mind from knowing that my money is not funding politics with which I disagree. I’ve also found that there is an army of teachers out there who agree with me, and they come to me quietly to express their frustration with the unions. They are just too afraid to stand up and opt out.
Imagine if all of those teachers stood together and exercised their rights together. If we all stood together, the bullying would stop. It’s usually hard to do the right thing, but we teach our students to stand up to bullies, so we can become powerful examples to them if we stand up as well. I encourage those teachers who are afraid to opt out to find the courage and follow their desires. The hardest part is the first step, after that, you’ll discover a world full of teachers who agree with you. You can meet many of them through the groups that provide liability insurance for fee payers – Association of American Educators (AAE) and Christian Educators Association International (CEAI). In fact, a call to one of those groups just might give you the courage you need to make that first step. I’ll be cheering for you!
FTT: Some people feel like the unions don’t represent their personal and political beliefs with their union dues – what would you say to those teachers?
RF: I would agree with them; I feel the same way. Then I would encourage them to exercise their First Amendment rights by becoming agency fee payers or religious objectors. I would also encourage them to get educated on the issues so that they can become voices for positive change within our educational system.
FTT: Is it true that you were a very active union member for a short period of time? How did that influence your current choices?
RF: Yes, that is true. As I mentioned before, when you’re an agency fee payer, you lose your vote and your voice in collective bargaining, so at one point, I decided to become a full union member to make my voice heard. I couldn’t make a difference simply as a member, so I became a site representative for one year and then I joined my local union’s executive board for two years. Therefore, I served a total of three years within my local union. During that time, I shared the concerns of myself and many other teachers on my campus. We were concerned about the way our political dues were being spent, and we were concerned about many collective bargaining issues that we felt were creating a very negative work environment for teachers. We also had some serious concerns about decisions that we felt were negatively impacting students (like teacher tenure).
I’m so glad that I served as a union leader because I learned that even local union leaders don’t really have a voice within the union. Every time I brought up common sense questions and concerns of my colleagues, I was ignored, led on by union leadership that never followed through and ignored my follow up calls, or told that the teachers would never go for the ideas; even though I was bringing the ideas from the teachers themselves.
The best result of my experience as a local union leader is that I can say with 100% certainty that I had no voice even as a local union leader. The union says it speaks on behalf of all teachers, but really, the union speaks on behalf of itself. Because of the automatic dues paying regime, union leaders are not accountable to teachers. Frequently they take positions that further the interests of the union leadership but do not reflect the views of the teachers they claim to represent.
FTT: Do you think it is possible for others to join the union and influence it from the inside?
RF: From my personal experience, this is not possible because the unions are not willing to change, and since they can coerce dues from all workers, they have no motivation to hear the voices of those paying the bills. The unions have become what they used to fight: powerful, entrenched organizations more focused on self-preservation than on educating children and protecting teachers.
FTT: What is the issue of fair share fees and union membership truly about for you?
RF: At the turn of the last century, unions did a lot of good because they put the desires of their membership first. I wish they would get back to their former work. The “fair share” issue is really about our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.
I never asked the unions to represent me; they’re the ones who asked for laws that gave them the authority to negotiate on behalf of everyone. Sadly, they use name calling, and call teachers like me “free riders,” yet they force us to pay 100% of their collective bargaining dues ($650 annually for most teachers in CA), give us no vote in collective bargaining and no voice. The reality is that I’m a forced rider, and the unions have been free riding off of me, and teachers like me for decades.
FTT: Do you have any thoughts on an independent local union for teachers who see the benefits in unions but don’t want to deal with the politics?
RF: I think this is a fantastic idea. Most of the teachers I know would appreciate being able to stand together with their colleagues in a local association, but they resent being forced to fund the state and national unions and their political agenda.
FTT: What do you think parents and students need to know about teachers unions, if anything?
RF: I think that parents and students need to educate themselves on what union money is supporting. The unions spend millions to defeat common sense education reform ideas including a parent’s right to educational choice. Parents and students need to be aware that when they see advertisements that claim that teachers support something, it’s typically not the rank and file teachers who support the political issue, it’s the unions we’re all forced to fund who support the issues and use our names (against our wills) to promote their agenda.
I’ve had parents angry with me because they thought I supported the union agenda. The teachers union is not representative of all teachers. Many of us are directly opposed to many of their ideas and political agenda. I would ask parents and students to please give us the benefit of the doubt. Many of us are on your team! Maybe you can help us by spreading the word about compulsory unionism so that our voices can rise above the powerful voice of the union.
Do you want to learn more about your rights as an educator when it comes to the unions? E-mail a member of our team at [email protected]!