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CHARLES G. SWEET v. PENNSYLVANIA LABOR RELATIONS BOARD (03/05/74)

decided: March 5, 1974.

CHARLES G. SWEET, RICHARD DISALLE, ALEXANDER R. CURRAN, THOMAS D. GLADDEN, PAUL A. SIMMONS, JUDGES OF THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF THE 27TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT, APPELLANTS,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, COUNTY OF WASHINGTON, MICHAEL R. FLYNN, FRANK JONES AND EDWARD PALUSO, COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, PETER ELISH, COUNTY CONTROLLER, AND SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, AFL-CIO, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in case of In the Matter of the Employees of Washington County, No. PERA-R-2209-W. Transferred to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, September 10, 1973.

COUNSEL

David S. Posner, for appellants.

Raymond W. Cromer, Assistant Attorney General, with him James F. Wildeman, Assistant Attorney General, Francis A. Zulli, Assistant Attorney General, and James L. Crawford, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee, Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

Robert D. Douglass, with him Oliver Hormell, County Solicitor, and Pierce & Douglass, for appellee, Commissioners.

Frank C. Roney, for appellee, Controller.

Louis B. Kushner, for appellee, Union.

Alexander Unkovic, with him Frederick J. Francis, and, of counsel, Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, for amicus curiae, Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by President Judge Bowman. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Mencer. Judges Crumlish, Jr. and Kramer join in this dissent.

Author: Bowman

[ 12 Pa. Commw. Page 361]

This is an appeal from a final order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) which concluded that Washington County, acting through its county commissioners, was the public employer of the court-related employees of that county within the meaning of the Public Employe Relations Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 563, 43 P.S. § 1101.101 et seq. The final order in question confirmed a prior nisi order of the PLRB of certification of an appropriate bargaining unit consisting of court-related employees and providing for a representative election as to such a unit.

This final order of the PLRB was handed down after the judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, having become aware of the proceedings before the PLRB, were heard in their assertion that they, or the court itself, were the public employer of such employees. However, the final order followed the previously ordered representative election, certification of a representative (Local 585, Service Employes International Union, AFL-CIO), and predated but a few days a labor contract entered into between the county and court-related employees through their representative; a practice we condemn and have uniformly stayed in similar cases within our jurisdiction where important issues involving interpretation of this new legislation are being tested by judicial review of PLRB action.

In this particular case, the precipitous actions of the PLRB, rather than promoting orderly and constructive relationships, are certain to create and have created discord and dispute in many collateral subjects

[ 12 Pa. Commw. Page 362]

    which this Court will not and cannot reach in disposing of the narrow issues raised in this appeal.

The appeal is before us on transfer from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania which had assumed plenary jurisdiction because the appellants comprise the judges of the court of common pleas having jurisdiction over the appeal. Pottsgrove School District v. PLRB, 451 Pa. 404, 304 A.2d 491 (1973). They properly disqualified themselves and the Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction.

Appellants, the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Pennsylvania Conference of Trial Judges as amicus curiae, advance essentially two arguments. They initially contend that the PLRB erred as a matter of law in concluding that the County of Washington, acting through its county commissioners, is the public employer of the court-related employees in question. They assert that the judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County are the public employer. Alternately, they argue that if the PLRB properly interpreted the statute in question then the statute is unconstitutional as it pertains to court-related employees on fundamental grounds of separation of powers.

Section 301 of the Act, 43 P.S. § 1101.301, defines "public employer" to mean: ". . . the Commonwealth . . . its political subdivisions, including school districts and any officer, board, commission, agency, authority or other instrumentality thereof. . . ."

As pertinent here, the key phrase defines the public employer to be the "political subdivision" which is elsewhere statutorily defined to include county government. Section 1991, Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa. S. § 1991. Insofar as legislative intent and statutory construction are concerned, there can be no doubt that the County of Washington, acting through its county commissioners, is the public employer of

[ 12 Pa. Commw. Page 363]

    employees of that county within the meaning of the Act to the extent that the Act requires or authorizes a public employer to deal with employees of the county defined as public employees and then only within the scope of the Act.

Therefore, we are constrained to hold as a general proposition that the County of Washington is the public employer of employees of the county who are public employers within the meaning of the Act and such county employees include "court-related" employees ...


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