Presidential Campaign

A ‘radical right winger’ finds common ground with Kaine

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As the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, my political opinions were center-stage this year. 

Although I’m fighting for the rights of children and educators, union leaders have called me a radical right-winger and a pawn of corporate special interests more times than I can count. Everyone from the unions to the New York Times has tried to write-off my case by painting my political views as outside the mainstream.

{mosads}Because I dared to question unions, I was vilified, but little did everyone know, all along I had something important in common with Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. 

Senator Kaine and I both support a worker’s right to choose — without fear or coercion — whether or not to join or fund a union. Many states respect this right through what are commonly known as right-to-work laws.

Twenty-six states, including Virginia under Kaine’s governorship, use these laws to protect teachers’ rights. However, my home state of California, where I have been a classroom teacher for 28 years, requires public school teachers to fund unions, regardless of whether or not we agree with the policy positions the union takes. 

This week is National Employee Freedom Week, a week designed to raise awareness of workers’ rights — especially for individuals like myself in the public sector.

You might not know it from the way the media described my case and me, but I’m hardly an outlier. Like me, 50 percent of teachers oppose compelled union dues. And a recent Gallup poll revealed that more than 8 in 10 Americans believe that no one should be forced to fund any organization, like a labor union, against his or her will. These are not surprising when you consider that satisfaction with union representation is at an all-time low, with only 43 percent of teachers taking a positive view of their union’s work.  

Before you jump to the conclusion that Tim Kaine is “anti-labor,” which is what the unions say about me, keep in mind that Kaine’s Senate voting record is ranked highly by the AFL-CIO, proving that you can be pro-labor and pro individual rights for teachers and other public sector workers.

In fact, when I decided to part ways with my union, I was inspired by the policies I saw working in places like Tim Kaine’s Virginia, Andrew Cuomo’s New York, and especially by nonpartisan efforts to expand accountability and school choice. 

Tim Kaine’s home state has proven that right-to-work is a success. Virginia doesn’t force public school teachers to pay mandatory union dues, and yet it’s still touted frequently as one of the best-run states in America with some of the nation’s best schools.

And, giving teachers and other public sector workers the freedom to decide for themselves whether to join a union hasn’t stopped them from joining. In fact, since 2010, Virginia’s public sector union membership has risen by 37 percent. When coercion is removed and unions become accountable to the membership, workers often join. 

Clinton’s vice presidential pick and I are on different sides on many issues, but on the right of workers to choose whether to join or fund a union, we are aligned. I’m optimistic and hopeful that more Democrats will join their colleagues and their vice presidential nominee in favor of workers’ rights. Indeed, many have already seen the light. A recent poll found that 65 percent of Democrats support right to work legislation.  

With their increasing help and support, we can move toward a country where all public sector workers have the right to choose for themselves whether or not funding a union is in their best interest.  

Rebecca Friedrichs has been an elementary school teacher in Southern California for 28 years. She was recently the lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court that questioned whether forced union dues are constitutional. 


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags 2016 presidential election California Democratic Party Labor National Employment Freedom Week Right to choose teachers unions Tim Kaine United States Virginia

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