By Rebecca Friedrichs
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Throughout our nation, teachers are being trained to combat bullying within our schools and social media. It’s ironic that this movement is led by teachers unions, which have been bullying independent-minded teachers for decades.
In California, where I’m a public school teacher, union bullying is enshrined in state law. The law requires that all teachers in public schools pay compulsory “agency fees” to support the agenda of the teachers unions — the most powerful political force in the state — thus allowing the union to dominate and skew political dialogue.
This system requires me to pay hundreds of dollars each year to support union activities that stand in direct opposition to my personal and political beliefs. That’s why I joined a group of other public-school teachers in a lawsuit filed April 30 in a California federal court, asserting that forced union fees violate our core First Amendment rights to free speech and free association.
In 2011, the California Teachers Association collected over $191 million in tax-free revenue, with more than $178 million coming from dues from teachers like me. The union has used this money to become the highest-spending interest group in the state, pushing controversial positions inside and outside of collective bargaining.
Unions have deployed massive expenditures on debatable matters related to education policy and state spending, and taken positions on issues that have nothing to do with public education, such as The Affordable Care Act.
In 2012, California voters were offered Proposition 32, which sought to prohibit unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. The unions launched a $60 million attack against the measure, financed (ironically) by fees deducted from the salaries of public employees. The campaign falsely claimed that without compulsory fees, public employees would lose their right to bargain for fair wages, and return to substandard labor practices of an earlier era. As a result, the unions defeated Proposition 32, just as they’ve defeated past initiatives seeking to scale back compulsory union fees.
In 2008, I attended a California Teachers Association Leadership Conference. One brave teacher stated that she disagreed with the union’s political agenda, was offended she had to pay for it, and wanted to know how to make her voice heard. A union board member responded harshly, intimating that all members who disagree with the CTA’s political ideology are bigots. The room fell into stunned silence; no one dared retort. Interestingly, a class offered that weekend to help teachers combat problems on campus was “Bullying 101.”
This brought back memories of 1993, when I refused to support my union’s efforts to defeat a voucher initiative offering parents choice in their children’s schools (while saving millions in taxes). My union representative berated me in front of colleagues, calling me a “radical right-winger.” It’s hardly “radical” to believe no Americans should be forced to support political causes that contradict their beliefs, or that parents should be empowered with school choice.
The problem is obvious. Teachers unions have used state power to entrench themselves in our political system, extracting compulsory fees to buy influence with lawmakers, who then allow unions to abuse their power at the expense of teachers and other public employees. Dissenting teachers feel bullied and paralyzed.
Free speech and free association reign supreme in our Constitution. The principal author of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, said, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
Recognizing that compulsory union fees violate the First Amendment won’t abolish unions or prevent them from engaging in collective bargaining. It will provide unionized laborers their individual rights to free speech.
The NEA 2012 Handbook states, “Bullying creates an unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between bully and target,” and asserts the union believes “education employees should be protected from workplace bullying.” Yet the greatest power imbalance is between union bullies and individual teachers. The oppression is so severe, we have a nation of silenced teachers who meekly submit to their unions’ controls, and are forced to pay for them! Teachers, parents, and taxpayers must stand together and demand a long overdue emancipation from entrenched union power, financed through compulsory fees paid by the very teachers the unions are hired to protect.
Rebecca Friedrichs is an Orange County educator and one of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This column originally appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune and is published here with permission from the author.