Who is Rebecca Friedrichs and Why Do Public Unions Fear Her?

Rebecca Friedrichs is a dedicated public school teacher in California. Her passion for teaching children is frustrated by the public school system in general, and the labor union she is forced to support, in particular.

And she has done something about it—something really big. She has sued the teachers union and gotten all the way to the Supreme Court. I will be talking about her a lot over the next few months, as well as other brave Americans who have gone to extraordinary lengths to correct a major error in Supreme Court First Amendment jurisprudence. This error has had a profound and insidious effect on our political culture, elective politics and public policy.

The terrible error the Court made was forcing public employees like Mrs. Friedrichs for the last five decades to financially support public labor unions, even though the unions use dues to support political activity. Even collective bargaining can be highly political. And the Court created an arrogant and intransigent labor monopoly supported by your tax dollars in doing so.

Recall that public unions have only been allowed since about 1960.

Except for private trade unions, there is no other entity in nation that can force its employees to support its political activities—and public unions get the government to take the money out of employee paychecks and deposit it in the union bank account. At least private labor unions have to work the mechanics of dues withholding out with the employer.

Does this sound like something you could explain to students in a Civics class?

Thanks to Mrs. Friedrichs and other brave school teachers, the Court has a chance to fix this. Maybe next year when American Civics is taught across the nation, there will be a major update to report.

Here is more of her story, in brief.

After trying unsuccessfully to work for change within her union, and getting bullied for it, Mrs. Friedrichs decided to withdraw from membership and just pay what is called an “agency fee.” That fee is supposed to just cover the cost of collective bargaining and other costs of representing her. The forced fee, which is almost as much as the dues, was a compromise the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed in the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That lazy judicial decision allowed states to violate the fundamental rights of citizens for decades and funneled millions and millions of dollars into the pockets of candidates and political causes, usually left-wing. The impact on the political system and our culture is hard to overstate.

The facilitation of forced funding made public unions a force to be reckoned with, arguably disenfranchising Mrs. Friedrichs and many other Americans who got cancelled out because of the undue influence of public unions. It has left the public school system hostage to the teachers union, rather than free to do what is best for students. It has also left public employees with an arrogant, monopolistic “representative” collectively bargaining exclusively on their behalf. When a union does not have to work for dues, it does not have to care what its members want.

So Mrs. Friedrichs sued to win her freedom, and to free the public school system. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, she is challenging the laws in 23 states, including Minnesota, which force public employees to pay an agency fee. Her case will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11, 2016. If you are able to be in Washington, D.C. that day, come support Mrs. Friedrichs on the steps of the Court. You know the steps will be packed with all the public unions, and probably private labor unions, too (most of them will probably get their expenses covered and get paid for being there.)

We included a hard-hitting column from our friends at California Watchdog below about what is at stake financially for public unions if Mrs. Friedrichs wins her case next month. You can also read a wonderful column by the Manhattan Institute’s Steve Malanga at the Wall Street Journal, “The Legal Case Unions Fear They Cannot Win.”

See you in D.C.?