Teacher on Unions: ‘Felt Like Little Children Being Bullied on a Playground’

August 13, 2014 - 3:10 PM

Rebecca Friedrichs

Rebecca Friedrichs, a teacher and former member of the California Teachers Association, spoke at the event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 12, 2014. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Teachers who left labor unions connected with their jobs said on Tuesday that they felt “bullied” for their opposition to compulsory membership and payment of dues that funded political activities.

“We literally felt like little children being bullied on a playground,” Rebecca Friedrichs, a teacher and former member of the California Teachers Association, said at the event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Friedrichs, who is also the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the CTA challenging its authority, was one of a panel of two educators and a child care provider that spoke about their experiences with labor unions and their efforts to help others who want to end their union membership.

Although she was opposed to CTA’s political activities, Friedrichs said she decided to become a member so she would “have a voice.” However, her efforts to question the union’s policies were rebuked, she said, including while at a CTA conference where she and another member expressed their concerns publicly.

“I continually brought up the fact that many of my colleagues and I were disturbed and offended that our forced dues were being used toward politics and highly political collective bargaining that were against our moral codes and our fiscal sensibilities,” Friedrichs said.

“On every occasion we were answered with hateful tones – rhetoric that made it very clear to everyone in the room that if you did not stand with union politics you were a bigot,” Friedrichs said. “And on every occasion, the entire room fell silent because of the extreme intimidation of the higher union officials.

“We literally felt like little children being bullied on a playground,” Friedrichs said.

The event, entitled "Free at Last: How and Why Union Members Leave their Unions,” was held during National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW) to highlight the growing movement of teachers and others leaving unions and fighting the compulsory membership and dues that pay for unions’ political activities.

Victor Joecks, executive director of NEFW and also a panelist at the event, said that 81 organizations have formed in 45 states “with the sole purpose of letting union members know that they have the ability to leave their union.”

The options for leaving unions vary from state to state depending on employment law, but teachers and others are working to change those laws, the panelists said.

Jennifer Parrish, who runs a child care center in her home in Minnesota and heads the Coalition of Union Free Providers, is the lead plaintiff in another lawsuit challenging her state’s efforts to force providers who receive state funding to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the largest public-sector unions in the country.

The lawsuit, which is still being litigated by Minnesota’s Eighth Circuit Court, could be affected by the recent Supreme Court decision, Harris v. Quinn, which said the state of Illinois’ attempt to make personal caregivers state employees for the purpose of union membership was unconstitutional.

Parrish said a union member came to her home and tried to get her to sign a “petition,” which turned out to be a union membership form.

Robert Wiersema

Robert Wiersema, a teacher and former member of the Michigan Education Association, spoke at the event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 12, 2014. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

Robert Wiersema, a teacher and former member of the Michigan Education Association, said teachers who leave their union should expect “resistance.” In his case, that included a disciplinary hearing.

“They were looking at every jot and tittle of what I did to make sure it followed the line,” Wiersema said. “I’m not saying this to intimidate other teachers from opting out, but you will face a little bit of resistance.

“That’s how it is, but that’s alright, because nothing of value is free,” Wiersema said.

Ironically, in 2012, the National Education Association issued a report on workplace bullying.

“Workplace bullying has many different definitions, for example, ‘the phenomenon that includes negative workplace behavior including such behaviors as being humiliated or ridiculed, being ignored or excluded, being shouted at, receiving hints that you should quit your job, receiving persistent criticism, and excessive monitoring of your work,’” the report stated.

“Other definitions include ‘repeated and persistent negative actions towards one or more individual(s), which involve a perceived power imbalance and create a hostile work environment,’” it added.