It’s always frustrating to discover there are still political leaders in this country who think of government employee unions in general — and teachers’ unions in particular — as merely a symptom rather than the disease infecting American society.
That’s why it was so gratifying to hear Rebecca Friedrichs’ comments on Monday night — and that they were given so bully a pulpit from which to be expressed.
Friedrichs, a 28-year California teacher and founder of the nonprofit For Kids & Country, was the second speaker to take the stage at the 2020 Republican National Convention and, not surprisingly, she took dead aim at the teachers’ unions.
“(The voices of teachers) have been silenced for decades by unions that claim to represent us,” she said. “They do not.”
Friedrichs was the lead plaintiff in the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which challenged the right of unions to make membership, dues or “agency fees” a requirement for employment in the public sector.
Her case was heard by the court and, by all indications, the justices were poised to rule in her favor, but when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly just weeks after oral arguments, the result was a 4-4 tie vote that sent the case back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had earlier denied Friedrichs’ claims.
A nearly similar case, Janus v. AFSCME, finally reached the high court in 2018, and the resulting ruling affirmed the First Amendment right of public employees to opt out of union participation and still keep their job.
Friedrichs said she and many of her fellow teachers weren’t originally anti-union; they simply raised objections to union policies they believed failed to serve “children, parents, scientific fact and American values.”
“For our trouble, we were brutalized, booed off the platform, barred from committees, shouted down and even spit upon by union leaders,” Friedrichs said. “This is how the union treats devoted teachers.”
Even worse, she continued, is how the unions’ “agenda of control” deceives students and parents alike.
“They’ve intentionally rewritten American history to perpetuate division, pervert the memories of our American founders, and disparage our Judeo-Christian virtues,” Friedrichs said of the unions. “Their lenient discipline policies morphed our schools into war zones, and they back ‘defunding police’ and abolishing ICE.”
Like all public employee unions, she argued, teachers’ unions have deteriorated into the funding arm of the political left, “collect(ing) billions annually from unsuspecting teachers” with the objective of turning classrooms into indoctrination centers for its radical agenda.
“The only way to keep a free republic is with a well-educated, moral citizenry that can self-govern,” Friedrichs said. “Unions are subverting our republic, so they undermine educational excellence, morality, law and order.”
Most insidiously of all, unions fight tooth and nail against the introduction of charter schools and educational choice, fearing competition not only for their members but for the garbled message they insist on disseminating as fact to our young minds.
Predictably, union leaders were quick to respond.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted out almost before the speech was even finished, “Tonight, let (sic) by Rebecca Friedrichs, the Republican party went all in on vouchers and anti-union rhetoric. Let’s be clear: none of these ideas will help students, teachers, or our communities.”
There weren’t enough characters left to explain how the teachers’ unions want to remove school resource safety officers, abolish rent eviction and enact Medicare-for-all before they go back to the classrooms would help students, teachers, or our communities.
Maybe AFT will explain that during the commercial air-time they purchased for the Wednesday and Thursday broadcasts of the RNC.
One thing is for certain – Ms. Weingarten and the AFT commercials are demonstrating exactly what tens of thousands of teachers have been saying for years: they don’t like money being taken from their paychecks to fund unions with a political agenda that doesn’t line up with their values.
It’s precisely why the Janus v. AFSCME decision was necessary in the first place. Prior to June 2018, public school teachers – and public employees across the country – had no choice but to financially support the union representing their workplace if they wanted to keep their job. And teachers’ unions and other government unions didn’t just start participating in politics – it’s been going on for decades.
Fortunately, forced public school closings and the teachers’ unions’ political demands have opened many parents’ eyes to the dysfunction amid their children’s education.
Rebecca Friedrichs shined a national spotlight on the corruption within teachers’ unions and the destructive impact they have on students.
Thankfully, parents tired of being held hostage to the teachers’ unions’ refusal to get back into the classroom can reclaim their power by making other educational choices for their children – many of them have had to become their kids’ teacher anyway.