Affiliate News
January 07, 2016

Local high school teacher heading to U.S. Supreme Court for historic labor case

Pankaj Sharma of Niles North HS (Skokie) to speak on behalf of workers before hearing; Gov. Rauner filed amicus brief in support of petitioners

Local high school teacher heading to U.S. Supreme Court for historic labor case

On Monday, January 11, Niles North High School teacher Pankaj Sharma will be heading to Washington, D.C. to speak on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court before oral argument begins in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an historic labor case that threatens workers’ rights to join with colleagues and advocate for the communities they serve. Niles North is located in Skokie, a nearby suburb of Chicago.

“I teach my high school students about the importance of our fundamental rights to come together and stand up for our beliefs,” said Sharma. "I’m very proud to be taking this lesson from my classroom to our nation’s highest court, to show my students that we can’t just talk about democracy, but we must take an active role in it. And that’s what this case is all about – powerful special interests trying to silence the voices of teachers like me, who work hard every day in an imbalanced economy that currently favors the most wealthy, not average Americans."

Sharma is an active leader of the North Suburban Teachers Union, Local 1274, an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers. He will be representing Illinois and the midwest at Monday's event; other speakers include workers from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The Friedrichs case asks the Court to decide whether public sector unions may continue to charge non-members a fee equal to the cost of representing them to their employer. Since no one is required to join a union – though unions are required by law to represent everyone in the workplace – this “fair share” fee ensures that all employees contribute to the cost of securing the benefits, security, and job protections the union negotiates and everyone enjoys.

An unfair ruling would gut the existing collective bargaining laws in Illinois and 16 other states that give teachers, state employees, nurses, firefighters, and other workers the right to negotiate with employers over wages, benefits, working conditions, and to advocate for high-quality education and services.

The IFT’s national union – the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - filed an amicus brief, making a powerful argument about how unions fight for much more than members’ best interests. AFT President Randi Weingarten told the Court, “Working people are struggling to get ahead, and this case will make it worse, especially for our children. When educators come together in a union, they are able to advocate not just for better pay and benefits but for a higher-quality public education for their students. Through their union, educators receive professional development to help them implement reform initiatives vital to helping all students succeed in this 21st-century economy. Through their union, educators participate on health and safety committees to raise concerns—like leaky roofs or asbestos—and devise plans to keep their students healthy. If the court overturns 40 years of precedent, it will be much harder for unions to do this vital work. When working people can speak up together, our children are better off.”

To learn more about the case, please visit

Story submitted by the Illinois Federation of Teachers