Co-Authored by: Nancy Thorner & Bonnie O’Neil
As noted in our collaborative article published Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 in Illinois Review, “Supreme Court to Adjudicate Mandatory Union Fees”, Rebecca Friedrichs is the lead plaintiff, an outspoken opponent of her teachers’ union who agreed to let her name become identified with the case. Friedrichs has taught elementary school for 28 years, mostly in the Savanna School District in Anaheim, Ca. You can listen to her discuss the case here, read a Q&A with her here, and a commentary by her in the Orange County Register here.
We cannot deny there is much wrong in the world of government and politics today, but few who complain about specific problems do anything to correct them. That may be because the average person feels incapable of facilitating a positive change, believing it a difficult, even hopeless task. True, it is a daunting task, often quite expensive and absolutely time consuming. Therefore, it is understandable that individuals consider themselves ill-equipped to facilitate any significant policy change, and thus most of us choose to just live with the problem, which is why problems remain problems year after year and end up lasting for decades.
Anthropologist. Margaret Mead, believed individuals could facilitate change in our world, as evidenced by her famous quote: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” Some might argue that Mead, born in 1901, lived during a period of time when it was possible for individuals to facilitate a change, but that our world today is far more complicated, and it has become increasingly difficult for an individual to accomplish any major change in established laws or procedures.
That may be true, but even today there remain a few American citizens willing to try to correct problems they encounter, especially when it significantly impacts their lives as well as others. Rebecca Friedrichs is a perfect example of such a person. She saw a significant problem with the rules and tactics of the powerful California Teachers Union and decided for the sake of teachers, students, and ultimately society that these problems needed to be exposed and challenged. Mrs. Friedrichs’ ultimate hope in doing so was to facilitate a positive change that would benefit teachers as well as students.
Lead Plaintiff’s Concerns
Friedrichs realized the California Teachers Union (CTU) had expanded its scope of responsibility far beyond its original role of helping and protecting teachers from job-related problems, such as providing legal counsel in situations where teachers needed assistance. Instead, the Union morphed into an organization with unprecedented power, far exceeding the authority reasonable people deem acceptable. The Union increased teachers’ obligatory dues and used the additional money to insert itself into state political matters, even when there was little or no reason to believe such actions were protecting the welfare of teachers or benefiting the education of our children. The California Teachers Union began using members’ dues to finance and support specific organizations which had little or no benefits to teachers. That practice has escalated with funding directed to highly controversial organizations that a significant portion of the teachers actually oppose.
Friedrichs’ main concern was not about union dues for collective bargaining, but about these additional fees teachers are asked to pay. Friedrichs is one of many who resent financing groups, candidates, and/or politicians whose purposes are in direct opposition to her own and others. The Union allows teachers to be exempt from paying those specific fees, but they must then continue to work with Union leaders and teachers who resent their decision and exhibit overt resentment. Thus, there is subtle pressure for teachers to be silent and to continue paying the full dues.
Fair minded people sympathize with teachers who show the courage of their convictions and opt out of paying the fees. Thus some do applaud Mrs. Friedrichs for being willing to stand up to the injustice, the powerful Union, and the politicians and organizations that have been benefiting from the Unions’ donations. However, there are powerful people benefiting from the donations, making it all the more difficult to find a way to stop the CTA from such practices.
The political power of the California Teachers Union has been well known in specific circles, but recently has also become more obvious to the general public. That is partially the result of reports like the one released by the California Fair Political Practices Commission which stated that the CTA is number one on the “Billion Dollar Club” list of top spenders in California politics. The CTA alone has spent more money in California politics than Chevron, AT&T, Philip Morris, and Western States Petroleum Association combined. You read that correctly – “combined.” For their record breaking spending in politics and for other reasons, former George W. Bush speechwriter, Troy Senik has deemed the CTA “the worst union in America“.
Political Power Vested Through Dues
According to Lennie Jarrett, project manager for education transformation at Chicago’s Heartland Institute, an article dated February 5, 2014, states that Illinois has the same problem as California. A teacher will pay $1,000, on average, in union dues each year. It is the policy of most unions to convince teachers they have no choice and must pay these dues to be allowed to work. Of this money, up to 80 percent is used for purposes other than collective bargaining, and more than 50% is used for politics.
In almost every state, teachers are automatically signed up to have a specific amount of their pay diverted to their unions’ political funds. The facts indicate when “paycheck protection” laws require unions to get permission from teachers before taking money for political purposes, teachers almost always say “no.” When teachers were given the chance to opt out of paying for the political causes engineered by education unions, they did so in droves.
Education unions have become perennial political powerhouses, nationally and locally. Terry Moe argues in his groundbreaking study of teachers unions, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools, that “by comparison to other interest groups, and certainly to those with a direct stake in public education—parents, taxpayers, even administrators — the teachers unions are unusually well equipped to wield power.” Consider the following:
- Fortune magazine has consistently ranked the National Education Association in the top 15 of its Washington Power 25 list for influence in the nation’s capital.
- The head of the Chicago Teachers Union had this warning to any mayoral candidate in the 2011 mayor’s race who didn’t toe the teachers’ line: “I think the opportunity is to throw the weight of 30,000 members and their families and students and teachers. I mean, we’re looking at maybe 800,000 people we could affect on some level.”
Due to their massive base and the massive dues that they charge, teachers unions can both mobilize voters and spend huge sums of money to defeat ballot initiatives and candidates that they don’t like. As Terry Moe put it, “when all is said and done, the power of the unions to block change is the single most important thing that anyone needs to know about the politics of American education.” Enormous political clout is exerted by union heads at the expense of their members who frequently disagree with their union bosses’ political agendas. Most of the union dues collected (often as high as 95%) flow to a specific political party’s candidates, even though, according to 2003 polling data from a National Education Study, only 51% of teachers who are union members identify with that party. Thus almost half of the union members are paying to elect candidates with whom they specifically disagree.
In disclosure forms filed at the end of the year 2011, it was revealed that the NEA spent almost $88 million — more than 20 percent of its entire budget — on “contributions, gifts and grants” that largely funded left-wing and non-education-related causes, including drives to raise the minimum wage and organizations promoting radical social issues. As a “Wall Street Journal” editorial noted, the union’s financial disclosure forms “expose the union as a honey pot for left-wing political causes that have nothing to do with teachers, much less students.”
Left-leaning organizations supported by NEA dues include:
- Business and Professional Women/USA
- Campaign for America’s Future
- Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
- Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
- Democratic Leadership Council
- Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
- Human Rights Campaign
- Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- National Association for Bilingual Education
- National Council of La Raza
- National Partnership for Women & Families
- National Women’s Law Center
- People for the American Way
- Rainbow PUSH Coalition
- Sierra Club
This website provides more examples of left-leaning recipients of teachers’ unions:
Fairness and equality for all is what our citizens expect of America’s leaders. Our nation has prospered largely due to those who understand the concept that injustices will survive only as long as people remain quiet about them. Within months, it is expected that Chief Justice John Roberts, and esteemed Justices Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, Anthony Scalia, and Clarence Thomas will all have the opportunity to finally put an end to the cleverly designed teachers’ mandate that has forced teachers to pay into a system that uses their money for political purposes and candidates with whom they politically oppose. May the Supreme Court vote reflect what is best for all our people, not just those who abuse their leadership privilege. We thank Mrs. Friedrichs and the other ten teachers who have chosen to challenge the status quo and restore equality. We wish them and their attorney well as they expose truths, present facts, and argue their position to the above esteemed Supreme Court Justices.