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

January 5, 2016

WESTMONT, IL – 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 suit is backed by the Center for Individual Rights, a right-wing group funded by the Koch Brothers, and supported by Governor Bruce Rauner, a proponent of the move to eliminate unions, who has filed his own amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the Friedrichs case, a move Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has called unlawful.
The IFT’s national union – the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - also filed an amicus brief, making a powerful argument about how unions fight for much more than members’ best interests.

The speaking program outside the court will begin Monday, January 11 at 9:30am ET, in advance of oral argument at 10:00am ET. 
For additional information or to arrange interviews with Mr. Sharma in advance, please contact Aviva Bowen.
To learn more about the case, please visit

About Pankaj Sharma and IFT:

Pankaj Sharma received his B.A. in History and Education and a M.A. in Teaching from Washington University in St. Louis. Sharma has taught for fourteen years at Niles North High School in Skokie, IL. He has primarily taught United States History, Government and Politics, and African and Latin American Studies. Sharma has also been the sponsor for the school's service and social justice club and has led many service learning trips to locations around the country. In addition, he is the former president of the Niles Township Federation of Teachers, an executive board member of the North Suburban Teachers Union (IFT/AFT Local 1274), and a member of the American Federation of Teachers Professional Programs and Policy Council on K-12 education. He lives in Evanston, IL with his family.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers represents 103,000 teachers and paraprofessionals in PreK-12 school districts throughout Illinois, faculty and staff at Illinois’ community colleges and universities, public employees under every statewide elected constitutional officer, and retirees. 





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