The Freedom Foundation has helped approximately 2,000 California teachers and school employees opt out of six major state unions this year—a record high, according to the Orange, California-based national nonprofit.
“There is definitely a movement happening, and it’s very apparent that [teachers and school staff] are fed up,” Rachel Weigel, California outreach director for the foundation, told The Epoch Times.
There are more than 300,000 members in California’s largest teachers union. But according to Weigel, those numbers are dwindling.
Currently, there are several key factors contributing to the trend of teachers withdrawing from their unions—such as the inclusion of critical race theory and what’s called “comprehensive sexuality education” in public school curricula.
However, Weigel said, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“These unions are basically backing policies and pushing for things that are causing teachers to be forced out of their jobs,” Weigel said. “Everything that’s happened over the past two years has really opened the eyes of a lot of these teachers of what their union represents and who they really care about.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that because government unions are inherently political, forcing employees to join a union violates their First Amendment rights based on speech, representation, and association.
From that day forward, joining a union was no longer required for government employment in the United States.
However, some experts say many school employees who oppose the political affiliations of their unions are not aware they can opt out of representation.
“We help make sure that every public employee knows these rights, because knowledge is power,” Weigel said.
According to the foundation, unions representing government employees take as much as 2.5 percent of their wages. In its report titled “Cycle of Corruption,” the foundation said, “The unions use most of these dollars to fund the campaigns of politicians who agree to do their bidding once safely in office.”
After the politician takes office, they pass legislation and raise taxes on private sector businesses and individuals to grow the size of government, according to the report.
According to filings with the state of California, the union representing teachers in California raised approximately $1.8 million to help stave off the recent recall effort against California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
In October, Newsom announced all school employees—both public and private—and students must be vaccinated by July 2022 to remain on campuses, unless medical or personal belief exemptions apply.
Before Newsom’s announcement, Megan Ruth, a middle-school science teacher, said she had only spoken once with her union representatives at Capistrano Unified Education Association.
Last year, her union, she said, saved her job—along with those of approximately 80 other teachers—after Capistrano Unified School District issued pink slips indicating possible layoffs were in the works due to fewer enrolling students. Ruth knew as a tenured teacher her job was secure, and her union fought for her.
But since then, a new conversation between Ruth and her union representatives arose after the vaccine mandates put her job at risk again.
Last summer, she started considering opting out of her union and the larger California Teachers Association, of which she is also a member.
“The Covid mandates that [the union supports] by supporting politicians who put them in place is something I can no longer support and be a part of and pay money to,” Ruth wrote to the president of her union last August.
Ruth sent her opt-out letter to both unions in August.
However, both organizations only allow a 30-day window for members to opt out before their annual commitment date.
Ruth missed the deadline by two weeks.
“If I knew about the certain amount of time to leave, I would have never signed,” she said.
According to the Capistrano Unified Education Association’s website, it serves approximately 2,300 members, including teachers, counselors, speech pathologists, psychologists, librarians, and nurses.
Ruth and thousands of other school employees statewide, the Freedom Foundation said, could not remain members of their unions considering the financial backing of California politicians who back the vaccine mandates.
“They’re doing a bunch of other things behind the scenes that I don’t think a lot of members are aware of, and I find that super wrong,” Ruth told The Epoch Times.
Melissa Goldbeck, a district nurse for the Capistrano Unified School District, served as a representative for her union during the 2019–2020 school year, but has now opted out, she said, because of political concerns.
“The point of a labor union is to make sure that working standards are appropriate and safe for all members, regardless of ideology, and I don’t think that is happening, nor have I witnessed it,” Goldbeck told The Epoch Times.
In addition to Weigel’s work with the foundation, Rebecca Friedrichs of San Clemente, California, continues her advocacy to give teachers options.
Friedrichs, who taught in the California public school system for 28 years, was at the center of a lawsuit on the issue—Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association—which was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016.
Court observers predicted SCOTUS would rule in her favor 5 to 4. But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia changed the outcome. The case tied at 4 to 4 and was sent back to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately ruled in favor of the unions.
However, the case paved the way for Janus v. AFSCME, the 2018 ruling that mandatory union membership violates the U.S. Constitution.
Friedrichs said that before COVID-19, she felt alone fighting the unions.
But when schools shut down and students transitioned to online learning, it not only awakened parents, but also prompted thousands of teachers to finally opt out.
“Our goal is to be a messaging campaign,” Friedrichs told The Epoch Times. “If teachers and parents will stand together, they can remove the unions from our schools and stop funding them.”
The California Teachers Association and the Capistrano Unified Education Association didn’t respond to requests for comment.