The concept of Unions, workers banding together to improve their wages, hours and working conditions, has been the great equalizer for workers in the United States for over one hundred years.

Only since 1971 have the public sector workers in Minnesota had the right to bargain collectively with their employers. A group interested in forming a Union goes through an election in the workplace. If a simple majority of eligible voters decide that they want a union, then everyone must be represented equally. Workers can choose not to be a member of their union but they are still represented by the union.

In 1977, United States Supreme Court unanimously decided that all represented workers should share the cost of their union representation because everyone benefited from the contract that the union helped form (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education)

Any worker who chose not to be a member of the union would still be represented but they would pay a smaller amount than their coworkers who are union members. This is commonly known as fair share. This law created balance and stability in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the moneyed interests and deep-pocketed corporations think that fair share is somehow not fair anymore. A very small group of teachers in California are trying to overturn and reverse the 1977 Abood decision. The teachers are represented by the National Right to Work Committee/ Center for Individual Rights, financed by Charles and David Koch. The case is called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

This case has the potential to hurt working people as it undermines the fundamental principle of fairness in the workplace established in the Abood case. Everyone who is represented by the union shares in the cost of the union.

The moneyed interests are attempting to characterize this case as freedom of association. But it is better characterized as a Siren’s song, an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad conclusion. If Friedrich prevails and Abood is overturned, hardworking people may heed the Siren’s Song or opt out of financially supporting their union. This would create imbalance in the workplace.

However, there is a sure fire way to defeat the moneyed interest behind this court case. We need to realize that our power is by sticking together. We are certainly stronger than the billionaires. We will win because we must win….for the middle class.

(John Spiegelhoff is the AFSCME labor representative in Worthington, Minnesota. Dale Moerke of Luverne, Minnesota, is employed by West Minnesota/Red River Valley Area Labor Council.)