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July 30, 1962


Appeal, No. 212, March T., 1962, from order of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, April T., 1961, No. 1946, in case of The Pittsburgh City Fire Fighters, Local No. 1 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO v. Joseph M. Barr, Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh. Order reversed.


Allan H. Cohen, with him Arthur D. Gatz, Jr., and Gatz, Cohen & O'Brien, for appellant.

David W. Craig, City Solicitor, with him Marion K. Finkelhor, Assistant City Solicitor, for appellee.

Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Cohen, Eagen and O'brien, JJ.

Author: Cohen

[ 408 Pa. Page 327]


This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County sustaining preliminary objections to appellant's complaint in mandamus to compel appellee, the City of Pittsburgh (City), to submit to the grievance procedures of the Act of 1947, June 30, P.L. 1183, as amended, 43 P.S. § 215.1.

Appellant, Pittsburgh City Fire Fighters (Fire Fighters) is an organization representing firemen employed by appellee in the bureau of fire. In 1960, City granted a wage increase to the firemen but refused Fire Fighters' demand for a wage formula tying in the wages of firemen to other wages in the city. Thereupon, the union requested City to submit this issue to a panel appointed under the Act of 1947. City refused and appellant filed its action in mandamus. City filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer to the complaint and requested that it be dismissed for failure to state a cause of action. The court below sustained the preliminary objections and dismissed the complaint. This appeal followed.

The purpose of the Act of 1947 is clearly set forth in section 1 of its provisions which, in pertinent part, states: "... In order to avoid or minimize any possible controversies by making available full and adequate governmental facilities for the adjustment of grievances, the governmental agency involved, at the request of the public employes, shall ... set up a panel of three members, one to be selected by the employes, one by the governmental agency, and the two so selected to select a third member." The Act of 1947 was an attempt by the legislature to provide a type of grievance machinery in aid of public employees who, by proscription of law (43 P.S. § 215.2) are forbidden to go out on strike. The findings of the panel are merely advisory and are not binding upon the

[ 408 Pa. Page 328]

    governmental authorities. The prime purpose of the legislation was to furnish a forum to which aggrieved public employees could carry their demands and there subject them to the light of public opinion. Erie Firefighters Local No. 293 v. Gardner, 26 Pa.D. & C.2d 327 (1961), aff'd per curiam 406 Pa. 395, 178 A.2d 691 (1962).

The only issue confronting us here is whether the provisions of the Act of 1947 providing for the "adjustment of grievances" is applicable to disagreements between a municipality and its employees concerning the adoption of new contractual provisions relative to a wage plan.

The courts in this Commonwealth have not previously considered what constitutes a grievance under the Act of 1947. There is, however, adequate authority in the field of industrial and municipal labor relations to assist us in our analysis of this question.

In Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 89 L.Ed. 1886, 65 S.Ct. 1282 (1945), the United States Supreme Court held that under the Railway Labor Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1185, c. 691, as amended, 45 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq., the individual employee has the right to control the processing of his own grievances regardless of the existence of a collective bargaining agent among the employees. During the course of its opinion the court differentiated between disputes concerning the making of collective agreements and disputes over grievances in the following terms:

"... Congress has drawn major lines of difference between the two classes of controversy.

"The first relates to disputes over the formation of collective agreements or efforts to secure them. They arise where there is no such agreement or where it is sought to change the terms of one, and therefore the

[ 408 Pa. Page 329]

    issue is not whether an existing agreement controls the controversy. They look to the acquisition of rights for the future, not to assertion of rights claimed to have vested in the past.

"The second class, however, contemplates the existence of a collective agreement already concluded or, at any rate, a situation in which no effort is made to bring about a formal change in terms or to create a new one. The dispute relates either to the meaning or proper application of a particular provision with reference to a specific situation or to an omitted case. In the latter event the claim is founded upon some incident of the employment relation, or asserted one, independent of those covered by the collective agreement. ... In either case the claim is to rights accrued, not merely to have new ones created for the future.

"The so-called minor disputes, ... involving grievances, affect the smaller differences which inevitably appear in the carrying out of major agreements and policies or arise incidentally in the course of an employment. They represent specific maladjustments of a detailed or individual quality. ..." (325 U.S. at 723, 724).

In West Texas Utilities Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 206 F.2d 442, 446 (1953), cert. den. 346 U.S. 855, 98 L.Ed. 369, 74 S.Ct. 70 (1953), the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia stated: "... As we view the word 'grievances' it does not encompass, for example, the setting of wage rates for a large percentage of the employees in a certified bargaining unit. The word 'grievances,' in the field of industrial relations, particularly in unionized companies, usually refers to 'secondary disputes in contrast to disagreements concerning broad issues such as wage rates, hours and working conditions.' ..." See also Chicago River & Indiana Railroad Company v. Brotherhood of

[ 408 Pa. Page 330]

After consideration of both positions, we are persuaded that the interpretation of grievances evidenced in the latter group of cases is the proper one in the context of the relationship of governmental employees to their governmental unit. This relationship is not analogous to that of an industrial worker with his company. The latter, through his bargaining agent, enters into contractual negotiations with the employer at periodic intervals - usually, immediately prior to the expiration of the existing contract. At such time, the union representatives and the company officials sit down and review the existing collective bargaining agreement, provision by provision. Through this process, they arrive ...

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