Rebecca Friedrichs Testimony on Senate Bill 602
Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee: Thank you for giving me time to testify and to share my story today. It’s an honor to be here.
My name is Rebecca Friedrichs. I’ve served as an elementary school teacher in the State of California for 28 years. In that capacity, I’ve been represented by a union.
I traveled here from sunny Southern California, because I personally understand the vital reasons public employees need a voice and a vote in our unions.
Throughout my entire career, my colleagues and I have been harassed and silenced by our government union leaders.
I’m here today, as a representative of those friends and our fellow public-sector workers, who have also been silenced by their unions.
The first thing I’d like you to know is when the union lobbies you it is not speaking for me or for many other employees like me. It is speaking on behalf of union leadership.
After trying to make the voices of my colleagues and myself heard in multiple ways for 20 years, I stepped up as a union site representative for three years and served as the secretary of my local union executive board.
Since all of the teachers I knew shared my frustrations of feeling unheard by our union, but they were too afraid to speak out, I sincerely hoped to gain a voice for all of us.
Among my many goals:
- I desired to discover how the union was spending our dues money and
- I deeply desired to gain a voice for teachers within our union.
- I was bullied by union leaders for daring to ask for accountability,
- I was never permitted to see state or national line itemed financial records.
- My teacher leader friends and I were shut down and intimidated by state and national union leaders when we questioned the use of our dues on political agendas we did not support,
- and when I tried to organize a teacher supported 3% pay cut to save the jobs of several outstanding colleagues who were being laid off during the severe downturn in the economy, the union leaders forbade me from allowing teachers to vote to save jobs. Instead, I was told,
“Don’t worry about those teachers Rebecca. The union will take care of them. We’re going to give them a seminar on how to collect unemployment benefits.”
Every one of them lost their jobs. They were paying close to $1,000 a year for this union representation.
After the union “represented” those teachers right out of their jobs, union leaders dared to tell them it was the district’s fault they could no longer teach.
- Class sizes went up in a low-income district full of needy kids.
- The laid off teachers were devastated. One of them told me she couldn’t understand why the district didn’t appreciate her hard work. Another told me, she must have been wrong about God’s calling on her life.
- Our faculty suffered another blow to our already hurting morale.
- We did not have a voice or a vote.
- There was no democratic process.
- My colleagues and I were silenced again by the union that was supposed to represent us.
Yet we had no recourse.
Our union was certified when I was a small child. No one will tell me the exact year, but a former employee in my district (now in her late 80’s) tells me the unions started pressuring her to join and opposing her values in the workplace in 1974.
- I was 9 years old in 1974.
- Between my husband, Charles and myself we have collectively served California students for over 70 years, and we’ve both paid unions dues or fees every year, which are taken directly from our paychecks.
- Neither of us has ever been given the opportunity to choose our union or even vote for a recertification.
- Both of us have been constantly silenced by those unions, and we’ve watched helplessly as our students have been injured as a result of union policies we had no power to stop.
That’s why my fellow teacher plaintiffs and I took our case for employee freedom all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
- Our union characterized us as freeloaders, and told people we were anti-union.
- We were not anti-union at all.
- We were uniting together to protect our students, and to give a voice to all public employees across the country – to restore their Constitutional right to freedom of speech and association.
Choice and freedom are core American values that American workers are being denied.
After the sudden and sad death of Justice Antonin Scalia, we lost our case for employee freedom.
But I will keep fighting.
- So many teachers and other public-sector employees represented by unions are still desperate for the right to simply gain a voice.
- They’d like to be able to safely and fairly cast regular union recertification votes,
- And to have a choice, a voice, and a vote on their representation
They’re just asking for freedom and accountability.
I know the unions tell you they provide full financial disclosure to teachers and other workers and even provide arbitration hearings for those who question their fees.
Three of my friends have attended those “independent audit,” hearings. All three of them reported the same things to me.
Sadly, the unions provide the letter of the law through their hearings, but they completely circumvent the spirit of the law.
- The hearings take place on a school day and are held at the state union offices. That’s over 400 miles from my home.
- My teacher friends were walked into a room filled with two large eight-foot tables covered in multiple stacks of union financial documents.
- Each stack was 6-8 inches tall.
- The teachers were given one hour to go through them.
- The rest of the time they had to listen to the hearing and attempt to ask questions without the benefit of getting to review the records.
- I’m very sad to report to you that every one of those teachers told me that while they were exercising their rights to review union financial records, union officials were rude to them and talked over them when they asked questions.
- Teachers serving our children with loving care, and all valued government workers deserve better.
- We deserve transparency, accountability, a democratic process, and kindness from the unions that are supposed to be serving us.
Today, you are considering important legislation in Missouri.
You can modernize your labor laws and protect voiceless workers with this bill.
My teacher friends and I wish we had the rights and protections presented in this legislation. You have the opportunity to offer public employees the rights we so desperately crave.
In my state where unions are entrenched in the legislature and have become what they used to fight, my colleagues and I will likely not receive the rights we deserve anytime soon.
But with this bill you can ensure Missouri public-sector workers receive their rights
- to democratically elect and reelect their unions,
- to receive transparent information on how their unions are spending their hard-earned money,
- to ensure standard private elections,
- and to give public employees the same rights as those in the private sector.
Teachers and other public employees across the country are in desperate need of your help to require union accountability and financial transparency.
I hope and pray the California state legislature, and all states will follow your lead and consider similar legislation to provide a voice, a choice, a simple vote, and the respect that all workers deserve.
Thank you for leading the country as a shining example of elected officials who show genuine concern about the rights and needs of hard working, middle class Americans.
It’s been an honor to speak with you today.