With her union, Linnette Ebanks felt invisible

President, American Federation of Teachers

Randi Weingarten | 7/3/2014, 12:36 p.m.

These workers—the majority of whom are women and people of color—had no power on their own but joined together for a piece of the American dream. Because these workers joined a union, they were able to win wage increases that took them from less than $6 an hour to more than $13 an hour. They also won health care benefits for the first time. Now, anti-union forces want to crash and burn their union, and the court has made that even easier.

But they won’t stop there. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, made it obvious that his real target was diminishing a union’s ability to collectively negotiate for fair wages and benefits on behalf of those we represent, and to fight for safe communities and high quality public services for those we serve.

Just look at Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker secured legislation under the guise of a budget shortfall that didn’t simply find savings but eliminated workers’ rights. A teacher told me that, as a result, she and her co-workers could no longer collectively bargain over anything but wages, and everything they had fought for was gone. From their health care to their paid sick days to the improvements they won for kids in the classroom over 20 years, everything had been gutted.

These attacks make clear what’s at stake, and they highlight the importance of empowering and elevating our members and collaborating like never before with our broader community. America’s workers have gone through the crucible of tough times and adversity—that’s why America’s labor movement was formed. Workers did not start off with their rights being protected by government. Throughout history we’ve had to organize ourselves, our families and our communities to win those rights—and we must do so again.

Unions were started by men and women who came together to create a better life for their families, and that’s the work we need to continue doing. We need to connect the dots and educate our communities. The corporate forces driving down wages and slashing benefits are the same ones using their oversized power to limit the voice of working people at the voting booth as well as the work site in state legislatures and through the courts. They are influencing politicians to do their bidding, and they have a Supreme Court that shares their ideology and wants to strip workers of every right to have a shot at opportunity and a voice in our democracy.

In cities and towns across America, we need to unite with one voice to ask politicians which side they’re on—CEOs and corporate interests or American families? We need to engage our co-workers, families and neighbors in the fight for a better America, where we enshrine the right of all working people to come together and form strong unions, and where we secure good jobs, great public schools, prosperous communities and opportunity for all, not just the wealthy few.