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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (01/20/76)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: January 20, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA LABOR RELATIONS BOARD
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT

Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in case of Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Thomas Miller, No. PERA-C-4802-C.

COUNSEL

John D. Thrush, with him Thomas H. Lane, for appellant.

James L. Crawford, Assistant Attorney General, with him James F. Wildeman, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

Author: Crumlish

[ 23 Pa. Commw. Page 50]

This is an appeal from a final order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (Board) dismissing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's (Commonwealth) exceptions to its Nisi Decision and Order directing the Commonwealth to comply with an arbitration award dated February 8, 1974. We reverse and remand.

The genesis of this appeal was the Commonwealth's refusal to comply with an arbitration award issued under Section 903 of the Public Employe Relations Act, Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 563, as amended, 43 P.S. § 1101.903*fn1

[ 23 Pa. Commw. Page 51]

(PERA) which directed that an employee of the Department of Public Welfare be restored to her position as Assistance Technician Trainee or its equivalent.*fn2 The Commonwealth contended that the arbitrator exceeded his authority, thereby violating Section 702 of PERA*fn3 sentatives." 43 P.S. § 1101.702.

     and in complying the Commonwealth would be in violation of Section 703 of PERA,*fn4 whereupon the employee

[ 23 Pa. Commw. Page 52]

    through her bargaining representative, the Pennsylvania Social Services Union (PSSU), filed an unfair practice charge pursuant to Section 1201(a)(8) of PERA*fn5 to enforce the award. Pursuant to Section 1302 of PERA,*fn6 the Board issued a complaint and after a hearing, a nisi decision and order was entered, setting forth the Board's finding of fact and conclusions of law which in essence ordered the Commonwealth to comply with the arbitration award. Exceptions were filed by the Commonwealth challenging the validity of the arbitration award. The Board dismissed them in making its order final,*fn7 directing compliance with the award. This appeal followed.

[ 23 Pa. Commw. Page 53]

The issue for our determination is whether Appellant's sole remedy is to be had in a strict interpretation of Rule of Judicial Administration 2101(a) which states "[r]review of an award of arbitrators appointed in conformity with an Act of Assembly to arbitrate a dispute between a public employer and an employe shall be sought exclusively in the Commonwealth Court" or may

[ 23 Pa. Commw. Page 54]

    the validity of an arbitrator's award be challenged in an unfair practice proceeding brought to enforce the award?

The Commonwealth being dissatisfied with the arbitration award could have challenged its validity by the appellate review route pursuant to Pa.R.J.A. No. 2101 but instead it chose to refuse to comply with the award which forced PSSU, the satisfied party, to seek enforcement. What is before us, therefore, is not a review of an award of an arbitrator pursuant to Pa. R.J.A. No. 2101(a) but a review of an order of the Board enforcing an arbitration award pursuant to Section 1301 of PERA.*fn8 The Commonwealth contends that the Board erred in dismissing its exceptions to the nisi order urging that Pa. R.J.A. No. 2101(a) vests in this Court exclusive jurisdiction to review the validity of an arbitration award. We agree.

The case at bar is inapposite to Community College of Beaver County v. Community College Faculty, 17 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 231, 331 A.2d 921 (1975). In Community College, the College, being dissatisfied with the arbitration award, filed a timely petition for review in the Court of Common Pleas. Uncertain as to the applicability of Pa. R.J.A. No. 2101, the College also filed a timely application for review under Pa. R.J.A. No. 2101 in this Court. In vacating the proceedings in the Court of Common Pleas, President Judge Bowman later wrote Pa. R.J.A. No. 2101 controls the provisions of the Act of April 25, 1927, P.L. 381, as amended, 5 P.S. § 161 et seq. thereby vesting exclusive jurisdiction in this Court to review arbitration awards issued under Section 903 of PERA.

Here PSSU being satisfied with the award, sought enforcement by filing a Section 1201(a)(8) unfair practice

[ 23 Pa. Commw. Page 55]

    charge; therefore, the board took exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to Section 1301 of PERA.

For PSSU to have the award enforced it must show not only that the Commonwealth refused to comply with the award, but also that the award is binding under Section 903. The procedural difference between Community College and the case at bar is that in Community College the dissatisfied appellant had the burden of proving that the arbitration award was not in concert with the law. Here, the satisfied compliant, PSSU, has the burden of proving that the arbitration award was in concert with the law. The Board should not invoke Pa. R.J.A. 2101(a) to absolve itself of the statutory duty to review an arbitration award which is the subject of the unfair practice complaint before it. The language of Section 1301 is clear. The Board's power "shall be exclusive and shall not be affected by any other means of adjustment or prevention that have been or may be established by agreement, law, or otherwise." (Emphasis added.) By giving the Board exclusive jurisdiction, the legislature triggered the recognition which is now universally accepted that the Board has the expertise and experience to understand and satisfactorily resolve the problems arising out of the intricacies and subtleties of labor-management relations, Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board v. Sand's Restaurant Corporation, 429 Pa. 479, 240 A.2d 801 (1968); Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board v. Butz, 411 Pa. 360, 192 A.2d 707 (1963); American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 17 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 83, 330 A.2d 300 (1975) and "shall not be affected by any other means."*fn9

Since the Board is statutorily bound to determine if an unfair practice charge lies, by refusing to determine if an arbitration award is deemed binding, it erred, however justified the Board felt its reliance on Pa. R.J.A.

[ 23 Pa. Commw. Page 562101]

(a) may have been. Moreover, the Board with its expertise in labor-management relations qualifies it, without doubt, to determine if the arbitrator did, in fact, exceed his authority. We therefore

Order

And Now, this 20th day of January, 1976, the final order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board is vacated and the case remanded to the Board for determinations consistent with this opinion.

Disposition

Order vacated. Case remanded.

Dissenting Opinion by Judge Rogers:

I would affirm the decision of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board finding that the Commonwealth had committed an unfair labor practice by refusal to comply with the arbitrator's award and requiring it to desist in its unlawful labor practice. As the majority opinion correctly notes, the Commonwealth could have appealed the arbitrator's award to this Court, and here raised the asserted invalidity of the arbitrator's decision. I find nothing in the law giving it another option to refuse to comply with the award and to assert the invalidity of the award as a defense to a charge of unfair labor practices. The Board, in my opinion, correctly held that the arbitrator's award, not having been appealed, was binding, and that the only issue before the Board was whether the Commonwealth had refused to comply.

President Judge Bowman and Judge Blatt join in this dissent.


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