For twenty years, Glen Wilkofsky has held his dream job as principal timpanist with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, a success that is no small feat and one of Glen’s proudest accomplishments.
But Glen hasn’t played in the symphony since 2020. Covid shut down the symphony for a period, but Glen’s union is trying to shut him out permanently. Why? Because he stopped paying union dues when he realized his money was funding union political activity he disagreed with.
After being dismissed in lower courts, Glen appealed to the United States Supreme Court. A ruling in Glen’s favor could affect employees who are members of certain collective bargaining units at various nonprofits in Pennsylvania’s healthcare, education, and transportation sectors.
Union Threatens Musician’s Job
Union officials with the American Federation of Musicians, Local 45, threatened legal action if Glen didn’t resume dues payments.
As Glen states: “For 20 years, I always paid my dues on time. I’d given the union so much money over the years, but the minute I questioned the value they provided, they tried to intimidate me.”
He refused to be intimidated. But union officials worked with the symphony to tighten the screws: They suspended him and threatened to have him fired.
Musician Fights Back in Court
Glen found the Fairness Center and filed a federal lawsuit to defend his First Amendment rights of free speech and association. He argues that since the symphony is defined as a public-sector employer under Pennsylvania’s labor law, and his union is organized under the public-sector statute, he is a public employee, and his First Amendment rights are protected. Therefore, Glen cannot be forced to pay a union as a condition of employment, according to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision.
Supreme Court Could Step In
After a federal district court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the union, Glen petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and affirm his rights under the Janus decision.
Many other Pennsylvania employees, like Glen, work for a nonprofit that could qualify as a public employer and are represented by a union certified under the state’s Public Employee Relations Act.
If the Supreme Court accepts Glen’s case and rules in his favor, thousands of employees could potentially lay claim to rights under Janus.
“Union officials are gatekeepers not to a replaceable job, but to an exclusive opportunity – a dream job. Why should they care what I think? Refusing to pay means I’ll lose the job that I worked so hard to earn. But they see dozens of potential dues-paying replacements waiting in the wings” – Glen Wilkofsky, Principal Timpanist for the Allentown Symphony Orchestra
Wilkofsky v. American Fed. Of Musicians is currently on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.