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A Disappointing Alliance on Friedrichs: E4E and AFT

Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) is an organization I admire. Since its inception both the  mission and vision have been clear:
To ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are included in the decisions that affect our profession and our students. E4E envisions an elevated, prestigious teaching profession in which educators are leaders both in and outside of their classrooms to drive positive outcomes for students.
E4E recently issued a public statement announcing that they would not be supporting veteran teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which is headed to the Supreme Court today. Truth be told, my initial reaction was fury. Having seen firsthand the brokenness of the current teachers union model, it seemed incomprehensible to me that an organization trying to bring about important and much-needed change for teachers and kids would acquiesce to a position that was aligned with the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Their strategic decision to co-host a town hall by phone with Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, was equally maddening, but also intriguing. So, I registered to be on the 60-minute call; all I knew was that they’d be discussing the Friedrichs case. The call was “open” to the public via a registration link on their website and nothing in the registration process indicated that this public forum was “off the record.” I assumed their teacher members and others on the call were free to discuss and share what they heard. I was mistaken. I have since learned that both E4E and Randi Weingarten intended for the call to be “off the record.” Despite my misgivings about a public call being “off the record” and despite Randi’s selfproclaimed love for all things transparent, I’ve decided to honor the request and not discuss the content of the call. Surely they have a reason. Prior to the call, E4E released results from a recent poll of their members regarding the case. While E4E contends that the results of the poll are what led them to their official position against the Friedrichs plaintiffs, only 17 percent of E4E members reported even being “aware” of the Friedrichs case while 55 percent said that they “support public employees paying fair share fees.” The survey also failed to exclude an explanation of the merits of the case, a breakdown of "fair share fees" and questions regarding non-members being forced to pay. So their claim that their members are overwhelmingly against Friedrichs seems to be on pretty shaky ground. A third of those polled said they’d rather learn more about the case before weighing in and that—coupled with less than 20 percent of members having any awareness of the case—certainly belies any claim that their members have overwhelmingly come down against Friedrichs. On the contrary, it seems to be a wide-open question. In contrast, the question seems far more settled when it comes to the public at large or even the teachers as a whole. Education Next conducted a poll to see where the public and teachers specifically come down on the Friedrichs case.
Only 34 percent of the public support agency fees, while 43 percent oppose them. The remaining 23 percent declined to take a position. If the latter are put to one side, a clear majority, 56 percent, favor ending the union shop. That finding is consistent with the public’s overall opinion of teachers unions—as only 30 percent say they have had a positive effect on schools and 39 percent say they have a negative effect. The more startling results came from the teachers. Only 38 percent of teachers favor the agency fee, while 50 percent opposing it, with the remaining 13 percent expressing no opinion. In other words, 57 percent of teachers with an opinion on agency fees disagree with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
It seems to me that E4E is not only dismissing Rebecca Friedrichs' personal story but also ignoring the opinions of most teachers nationally. On a more positive and hopeful note, there are certainly spaces where AFT, E4E and the rest of us can find common ground: ending zero tolerance policies, improving teacher preparation and more equitable funding to name a few. But I don’t see common ground here in the case headed to the Supreme Court today. On the contrary, a decision in favor of Friedrichs will be just the push the unions need to change from within and transform themselves into professional organizations that incentivize excellence and treat their members like true professionals. Coercing people to be members of a union doesn’t just fly in the face of democracy. It also suggests that union leadership is well aware that they aren’t serving their members as well as they could be. If they were, they wouldn’t have to force them to join or force them to pay. Friedrichs at its core is about freedom of speech and freedom of association, tenets that E4E embraces. They have erred by standing beside someone as influential as Randi Weingarten while she viciously impugns the character of teachers who’ve decided to stand up against an organization that they believe has violated those rights. That’s not leadership. That’s fear.  
An original version of this post appeared on Erika Sanzi's blog, Good School Hunting, as A Disappointing Alliance.
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...

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