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What this teacher wants for 'Teacher Appreciation Week' -- freedom from union tyranny

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 (AP)

Most of us can recall loving teachers whose affirmations and careful instruction powerfully impacted our lives. In celebration of their influence, this week is Teacher Appreciation Week in America.

Although we’re still inspiring youth, many educators aren’t feeling appreciated today because the unions we’re compelled to hire tend to support policies that are often harmful to our students and lead to low morale among teachers.

When unions started at the turn of the last century, their united support was necessary, but sadly, unions have become what they used to fight – powerful, entrenched organizations more focused on self-preservation and pushing their political agenda than on protecting the rights of individual members. 

Many educators aren’t feeling appreciated today because the unions we’re compelled to hire tend to support policies that are often harmful to our students and lead to low morale among teachers.

Their agenda is no secret. According to a 2010 report by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), “The largest contributions to a political party among the identified special interest groups were made by the California Teachers Association [CTA] to the California Democratic Party -- totaling $6,503,499.” 

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan election-finance watchdog organization, reports that the National Education Association (NEA) was the top combined state and federal contributor to the 2008 races, donating some $45 million, more than 90% of which went to Democratic campaigns.

Although unions lean in one political direction, many teachers have personal and fiscal beliefs that place us on the opposite side of the debate. A 2005 NEA survey, reported in Education Next,revealed that NEA members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.”

Teachers pay compulsory dues averaging $1,000 annually in California. We can opt out of the “non-representational” political portion of the dues (about 35%), by becoming “agency fee-payers,” but we cannot opt out of the collective bargaining portion of the dues (about 65%).

These mandatory dues are called “agency fees.” Unfortunately, collective bargaining has become highly political, so nine other teachers and I filed a federal lawsuit against CTA and NEA in April 2013. We’re the first to challenge the Constitutionality of agency fees. The suit, currently at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, is just one step away from the Supreme Court. 

Our forced dues have been used to promote policies that undermine the educational process and the educational rights and safety of children. 

Our unions put teacher tenure protection above the interests of our students; this is just plain wrong. Here’s what’s happened as a result.

- In Wisconsin, a teacher was fired for viewing and sharing pornography on district computers. The district spent nearly $1,000,000 fighting against his reinstatement, but had to pay him $200,000 in back pay when they were forced to retain him because of the unions’ grievance process. 

- This year, the Michigan Education Association fought for severance pay for a pedophile convicted of molesting his student for years. 

- In addition, a California educator convicted of committing lewd acts upon dozens of students, is currently serving 25 years for his crimes against innocence, but thanks to the union supported appeals process, it cost Los Angeles Unified School District $40,000 to get rid of him. He’ll receive almost $4,000 a month in retirement benefits for life, courtesy of taxpayers.

In 2013, NEA came out against a bipartisan federal bill that would prohibit convicted sex offenders, murderers, and kidnappers from working in schools. Teachers don’t want these criminals around our vulnerable students, but the unions are permitted to fund this frightening stance with our dues.

Exacerbating the issue, union policies have created “first in, first out” hiring rules, so many high-quality teachers are being laid off because they don’t have tenure. Tenure was created to protect the free speech of teachers; it wasn’t supposed to offer permanent job security. 

Throughout my twenty-six year career, I’ve tried to make my voice heard. I’ve been bullied, called a “radical right winger” for refusing to campaign for union politics, and ostracized for choosing “fee-payer” status. It’s hard to understand why I’m labeled “radical” for standing up for my students and my Constitutional right to free speech. 

Many Americans seem to understand our struggle. A 2011 Phi Delta Kappa International/Gallup poll found that nearly half of all Americans (47%) believe unions have hurt the quality of public education.

Everyone cares about education, but teachers are on the front lines in this battle to improve education for the sake of our students and put power back into the hands of families. 

The unions drown our voices with the power they’ve amassed from our forced dues, so we feel like David fighting Goliath. 

America can show appreciation to its teachers by giving us the one thing to combat this Goliath problem – freedom from compulsory unionism.

Rebecca Friedrichs is a California public school teacher and lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.