Karen Cuen

Music Teacher, California

In the backward logic that rules government unions, workers are not only forced to join state and national organizations that claim to fight for their freedom, but are also compelled to financially support union political aims with which they often strongly disagree.

Perhaps worst of all, while unions claim their main value is in protecting their members, it is not unusual for them to attack those members, sometimes viciously.

It happened to Karen Cuen. The reason? She had the outrageous notion she’d like to help make things in her community a little better. That’s why, in the 1990s, she decided to run for her local school board.

Though a noble idea, Karen, an elementary school music teacher, admits that back then she was terribly naive about education politics.

“They sent out hit pieces in the mail about me.”

“My first misstep was asking the local teachers’ union to endorse my candidacy,” she says. “I couldn’t figure out why they declined to endorse me after they interviewed me. I was a member of the same union that they were! I learned later that it was my statement supporting school vouchers that was my undoing.”

Despite her union’s opposition, Karen was elected and spent four years as a trustee. She argued for accountability, parents’ rights and above all else, what was good for kids. What she didn’t take into account was her union’s self-serving aims that it places above all else, including kids.

“When it was time for reelection, the union – of which I was a member, don’t forget — came after me with a vengeance,” she says. “They sent out hit pieces in the mail about me, they passed out flyers outside of back-to-school nights, they put signs on cars. It was non-stop.”

It worked. Karen was not reelected to her local school board. In a grotesque twist, her own union had not only fought against her but used Karen’s own money, forcibly taken from her paycheck, to fund the attacks.

“The union was not looking out for me.”

“After living through that, I realized the union was not looking out for me. My dues money, funneled through the California Teachers Association, helped pay to make sure I was not reelected,” she says. “At the time, I was pretty devastated, being a union member and all. But, looking back, I now think of that experience as a badge of honor that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”


AAE Member Update: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (page 4)

Orange County Register: Enough is Enough

Karen was a co-plaintiff with Rebecca in their lawsuit Friedrichs v CTA. Read more of Karen’s story in Rebecca’s book Standing Up to Goliath. Coming soon!