Meet the SoCal teacher behind the big Supreme Court decision on union dues

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Four of the ten California plaintiffs in the Supreme Court's Friedrichs v. California case, which challenged teachers unions' ability to collect fees from non-members, are from Orange County and three others teach in other Southern California schools. 

The professional organization behind the case, the Christian Educators Association International, has even deeper Southern California roots. It was founded in Los Angeles 63 years ago.

The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on the case on Tuesday, effectively upholding a lower court's ruling and handing a victory to the teachers union.

But the lead plaintiff in the case, San Clemente's Rebecca Friedrichs, said that she planned to continue the fight.

“I’m definitely in this for the long haul, and going to continue sharing the voice of teachers not being heard,” she said.

Friedrichs, who has been a teacher for 28 years and currently works at an elementary school in Buena Park, recalled how early in her career she began to disagree with the political positions the state teachers union took and the job protections the union had negotiated.

“Every single decision they’re making, whether it’s collective bargaining or a political decision, really comes in conflict with my core values,” she said.

Christian Educators Association International is a professional organization for Christian teachers who work in public schools. The group was a co-plaintiff in the Supreme Court challenge alongside the teachers. Its California chapter, which is based in Anaheim, has about 1,000 members, according to the chapter director. 

Friedrichs said that while she does object to the union's affiliation with groups such as Planned Parenthood, her main interest in the Christian teachers' group was rooted in her belief that the union’s seniority protections shielded ineffective teachers. 

“I did not come to them with specific Christian values," she said. "I came to them with concerns about collective bargaining.”

After having left the teachers union, Friedrichs also said she found herself in need of a service that unions normally provide: insurance protection. 

“I would be a fool to stand in front of a classroom without liability insurance," she said. "All teachers need liability insurance because if there is some kind of a problem, teachers can be sued personally."

Observers say in spite of the loss, the case may mean greater visibility for the organization.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if enrollment and membership go up because this has essentially brought some attention to this organization," said Dennis Eastman, director of the school of education at Biola University, a Christian university in La Mirada. "I’m not sure there are going to be droves.” 

Eastman said both sides are taking stock of their strategies moving forward. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-4 decision leaves the door open for the case to be taken up again when a ninth judge has been appointed to fill the vacant seat on the court.

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