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decided: October 8, 1976.



Gerry J. Elman, Deputy Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellants.

Thomas A. Beckley, Harrisburg, for appellees.

Jerome H. Gerber and James L. Cowden, Harrisburg, for Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, amicus curiae.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 469 Pa. Page 361]


These appeals present the question whether jurisdiction in equity exists in suits by public employes against their employers and collective bargaining representatives to enjoin payroll deductions for union dues, and to recover the amount of dues already deducted. The Commonwealth Court held that it has equitable jurisdiction of such suits. For the reasons which follow, we have concluded that the instant action was initiated for the purpose of enjoining an arguably unfair labor practice and that therefore jurisdiction of the grievance is in the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board [hereinafter "the PLRB" or "the Board"]. Accordingly, we shall reverse the decree of the Commonwealth Court.

Rosemary Hollinger and E. Elizabeth Miller, the plaintiffs-appellants in No. 19, are first level supervisors*fn1 in the Department of Welfare of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [hereinafter "the Department"]. Their complaint alleges the following facts: On January 5, 1973, the PLRB certified the Joint Bargaining Committee of the Pennsylvania Employment Security Employes' Association and the Pennsylvania Social Services Union, both affiliated with the Service Employes International

[ 469 Pa. Page 362]

Union, AFL-CIO [hereinafter collectively referred to as "the union"], as the exclusive representative, for the purposes of meeting and discussing*fn2 wages, hours and conditions of employment, of a bargaining unit of which appellants are members. On January 22, 1973, the union and the Department entered into a "memorandum of understanding," which contained a "maintenance of membership" or "union security" provision*fn3 and provided for dues deductions from the pay checks of those union members who authorize such deductions.*fn4 The memorandum of understanding expired on June 30, 1973. On July 5, 1973, Hollinger and Miller, both of whom had previously joined the union and authorized the deduction of union dues from their pay checks, resigned from the union, and the Department ceased the dues check-off as to them.

[ 469 Pa. Page 363]

On January 30, 1974, the union and the Department entered into a new memorandum of understanding, which, like its predecessor, provided for maintenance of membership and union dues deductions. In March of 1974, the plaintiffs were advised by the Department that their resignations from the union, not having occurred during the fifteen day period immediately prior to the June 30, 1973 expiration of the first memorandum of understanding, were ineffective; plaintiffs were told that in consequence dues would be collected from their wages retroactively to the date deductions had been terminated, and thereafter. It is alleged that this in fact occurred.

The facts asserted in the appeal at No. 20 are much the same. The plaintiffs-appellants there are thirteen "rank and file" employes of the Department of Public Welfare. Their complaint alleges the following facts: On January 4, 1972, the union was certified as the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit of which the plaintiffs are members, for purposes of collective bargaining with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. On June 1, 1972, the Department and the union entered into a collective bargaining agreement which included a "union security" or "maintenance of membership" clause*fn5 and a provision for dues deductions from the pay checks of union members.*fn6 This agreement expired on June 30, 1973. Between July 1, 1973, and July 26, 1973, the plaintiffs resigned from the union and the deduction of dues from their wages was stopped. On or about July 26, 1973, the union and the Department entered into a new collective bargaining agreement which provided, as had the prior agreement, for maintenance of membership and union dues deductions. In March, 1974, the Department informed these plaintiffs also that their resignations from

[ 469 Pa. Page 364]

    the union were ineffective because they had not been made within the designated period prior to expiration of the first agreement and that dues deductions would resume retroactively to the dates deductions had been terminated. Again, this course of action is alleged to have been in fact adopted by the Department.

In both complaints the employees pray for injunctive relief against further dues deductions, an accounting of all moneys deducted from wages after July 1, 1973, and repayment of all moneys improperly deducted, with interest.*fn7 In both cases the defendants filed preliminary objections asserting lack of jurisdiction in the Commonwealth Court, failure to exhaust contractual and statutory remedies, the existence of an adequate remedy at law, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and immunity from suit. The Commonwealth Court overruled the preliminary objections and directed that responsive answers be filed. This appeal followed.*fn8 In view of our conclusion that subject matter jurisdiction of these suits is in the PLRB we do not reach the remaining preliminary objections.

[ 469 Pa. Page 365]

The starting point in a consideration of whether the PLRB has original jurisdiction*fn9 of a dispute between public employes and their employer (or between such employes and their collective bargaining representative) must be to ascertain whether the remedy sought is redress of an unfair labor practice. If it is, then the Board is vested with exclusive original jurisdiction by Section 1301 of the Public Employes Relations Act, Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 563, No. 195 [hereinafter the PERA], 43 P.S. § 1101.1301 (Supp.1976).*fn10 That section provides:

"The [PLRB] is empowered . . . to prevent any person from engaging in any unfair practice listed in Article XII of this act. This 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."

As we have said in construing identical language in the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act, "[w]hile this provision speaks directly to preventing, as distinguished from determining the occurrence of, an unfair labor practice, we think the latter function is implicitly embraced in the former." Building Service Employees International Union, Local 252 v. Schlesinger et al., 440 Pa. 448, 452, 269

[ 469 Pa. Page ]

Page 366members. Cf. National Labor Relations Board v. Injection Molding Co., 211 F.2d 59, 65 (8th Cir. 1954). As such, the acts of both employers and unions in causing such unauthorized deductions to be made, if proved to have occurred, may be unfair labor practices under Sections 1201(a)(1) and 1201(b)(1), respectively, of the PERA, and actions seeking to enjoin such deductions are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Labor Relations Board by virtue of Section 1301 of the PERA, note 1 supra, quoted above.*fn13

The appellees contend that a contrary result is required by our decision in Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Local No. 3, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Board of Education, 458 Pa. 342, 345 n. 3, 327 A.2d 47, 49 n. 3 (1974). We there held, inter alia, that the common pleas court had been correct in concluding that it had jurisdiction in equity in a suit brought by a union to compel specific performance of a dues deduction clause in a collective bargaining agreement. That case was thus a suit to enforce a contract, not one to abate an unfair labor practice, see Building Service Employees International Union, Local 252 v. Schlesinger, et al., supra, 440 Pa. at 450, n. 2, 269 A.2d 894, and the parties had agreed to forgo the arbitration procedure specified in the agreement. See Section 903 of the PERA, 43 P.S. § 1101.903 (Supp.1976). Moreover, no contention that original jurisdiction lay in the PLRB was made at any stage of the proceeding. Accordingly, Philadelphia Federation is not controlling on the jurisdictional aspect of the case at bar.*fn14

[ 469 Pa. Page 368]

The appellees argue, finally, that PLRB jurisdiction should not preclude access to the courts to redress the consequences of unfair labor practices where the remedies obtainable in the PLRB are inadequate. The Commonwealth Court agreed, concluding that only by a suit in equity could the appellees obtain immediate cessation of the dues deductions and the return of moneys improperly deducted. Whatever may be the proper disposition of a case where the remedy obtainable in the Board is plainly inadequate, we are satisfied that this is not the situation in the case at bar. Section 1303 of the PERA, 43 P.S. § 1101.1303 (Supp.1976), provides in pertinent part:

"If, upon all the testimony taken, the [PLRB] shall determine that any person named in the complaint has engaged in or is engaging in any unfair practice, the board shall state its findings of fact, and issue and cause to be served on such person an order requiring such person to cease and desist from such unfair practice, and to take such reasonable affirmative action, including reinstatement of employes, discharged in violation of Article XII of this act, with or without back pay, as will effectuate the policies of this act."*fn15

[ 469 Pa. Page 369]

In our view the language of this provision is broad enough to permit the PLRB not only to order cessation of improper dues deductions if it finds that they are being made, but also to compel the payment to employes of moneys which have been improperly deducted.*fn16 This is all that the appellees seek in these actions.*fn17 To hold that the PLRB does not have original jurisdiction to hear the disputes would be effectively to delete the word "exclusive" from Section 1301 of the PERA, ante at 1249.

The decrees of the Commonwealth Court overruling the defendants' preliminary objections are reversed. In each case the preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court is sustained, and the complaint is dismissed.

Each party to bear own costs.

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