'It's About Defending My Rights': Musician Who Refused Union Membership Sues Gov't-Funded Orchestra

A timpanist / Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons
April 20, 2022

A musician is suing a government-funded Pennsylvania orchestra after it suspended him for refusing to pay union dues, a punishment he said violates his First Amendment rights.

Glen Wilkofsky, a timpanist for the Allentown Symphony Association, said in an April lawsuit that he has the right to opt out of union membership because his employer receives government funding, making it a public entity under Pennsylvania law. Wilkofsky cited the Supreme Court's 2018 Janus v. AFSCME ruling, which held that forced union membership for public sector employees violates the First Amendment because it forces them to support unions' political spending.

The American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra's local union, has spent more than $259,000 on federal candidates since 2016—roughly 98 percent of which went to Democrats.

Wilkofsky's claims center on Pennsylvania's definition of a public employer, which includes entities that receive "grants or appropriations from local, State, or Federal governments." The orchestra confirmed to a local newspaper that it receives government funds but would not specify how much.

A favorable ruling for Wilkofsky at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania could hasten union membership's decades-long decline. Pennsylvania does not have right-to-work laws, which means that private employers can require union membership as a term of employment. A legal decision that broadens the definition of "public employer" could allow a significant number of employees to opt out of membership in the state and potentially nationwide.

Wilkofsky refused to pay dues to the American Federation of Musicians Local 45 in 2020, after nearly two decades of membership, according to the lawsuit. The orchestra notified him a year later that it would suspend him until he resumed payments to the union.

"I should never have had to join the union in the first place, but they gave me no choice," Wilkofsky told the Washington Free Beacon. "This isn't about money and never was. After hotel and traveling expenses I rarely broke even. It was about my love for music and performing. Now, it's about defending my rights."

The American Federation of Musicians Local 45 did not respond to a request for comment. The Allentown Symphony Orchestra declined to comment.

Wilkofsky ECF 1 Complaint 04.11.22 by Washington Free Beacon on Scribd

Published under: Unions