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Two Teachers Explain Why They're Taking on Unions

Two Teachers Explain Why They're Taking on Unions

Two of the educators behind the Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association that will take on the California Teachers Association this fall explain to The Washington Post in a recent article why they're fighting and what they're fighting for.

Rebecca Friedrichs and Harlan Elrich both "say that they decided to become plaintiffs because they don’t want to support a politically powerful union with which they frequently disagree. Current law allows them to opt out of paying for the union’s political activities — about 30 percent to 40 percent of annual dues. But they must continue to pay 'agency fees,' which support the union’s collective bargaining activities," The Post said.

This is the crux behind the case, and should the Supreme Court side with them, the right of public sector unions in California and 25 other states to collect agency fees will be removed.

For some insight into the teachers' background, The Post asked them questions about their history in teaching and with teacher's unions.

Friedrichs admitted her experience with unions had been negative from the start. She described a time in her third or fourth year of teaching when the union had teachers attend meetings warning about taking a stand against school vouchers in California. She did her own research and came to the conclusion that vouchers might not be so bad—and said so.

"My union rep right there in front of everybody called me a radical right winger for daring to not stand against vouchers. I was trying to follow my conscience and I was abused for that. That whole school year I was shunned and treated like a second-class citizen," she said.

The final straw with the union came for Friedrichs in 2008 or 2009 when the economy crashed and many teachers without tenure were pink-slipped. Friedrichs knew the quality of these teachers and had seen how they resonated with the children and the parents and went to bat for their jobs, seeking from the union an offering of a 2 to 3 percent pay cut to keep their jobs.

"They looked at me and said oh no way, the teachers will never go for a pay cut. I said how do you know if you don’t ask them?

They would not go to the teachers. They would not put out a survey, would not even ask them would they be willing to take a pay cut."

What the union did say it would do, however, was to provide the pink-slipped teachers with seminars on unemployment benefits.

"I swear my jaw dropped. I said are you kidding me? They’ve been paying $1,000 a year to this union and that’s all we’re going to do for them?"

Both Friedrichs and Elrich are in agreement that they do not want to have to pay any fees for their union to use for any sort of political purpose with which they might not agree—what the union says is for collective bargaining.

When asked the reception in the teachers' lounge, Friedrichs said she feels welcome and faces mostly support from teachers who agree but are not in the position to speak out.

Elrich, on the other hand, says he has gotten a little more pushback from supporters of unions who do not want to see them weakened and admits he avoids the teacher's lounge, despite seeing a lot of support as well.

"Unions are not going to go out of business over this. Unions will still have full monopoly bargaining power. They’ll still be there in the schools. The only difference I see is that workers will have a choice. If teachers see that a union is good, they’ll join. If they feel like me and they’re troubled in their conscience, they won’t join. To me, it’s a liberty issue," Friedrichs told The Post.

Read the full article here and comment with your thoughts below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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