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WASHINGTON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS v. PENNSYLVANIA LABOR RELATIONS BOARD PENNSYLVANIA CONFERENCE STATE TRIAL JUDGES AND WASHINGTON COUNTY COURT COMMON PLEAS AND PRESIDENT JUDGE CHARLES SWEET (07/03/80)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: July 3, 1980.

WASHINGTON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, PETITIONER,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA LABOR RELATIONS BOARD; PENNSYLVANIA CONFERENCE OF STATE TRIAL JUDGES; AND THE WASHINGTON COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS AND PRESIDENT JUDGE CHARLES SWEET, RESPONDENTS

No. 33 W.D., Misc. Docket 1980, Petition for Review and Application for Injunction, Temporary Restraining Order and Writ of Prohibition

COUNSEL

Alex E. Echard, Gen. Counsel, Felice Associates, Inc., Greensburg, for petitioners.

Alexander Unkovic, William Meyer, Joseph Vater, Jr., Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, Pittsburgh, for Pa. Conference of State Trial Judges.

W. Gregory, Jr., Washington, D. C., Court Administrator of Washington County, James Crawford, Pa. Labor Relations Bd., Donald A. Wallace, Harrisburg, for respondents.

Rothman, Gordon, Foreman & Groudine, Louis B. Kushner, Stephen H. Jordan, Pittsburgh, for intervenors (Service Employees International Union, Local 585, AFL-CIO).

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ.

Author: Kauffman

[ 490 Pa. Page 528]

OPINION OF THE COURT

On February 11, 1980, the Commissioners of Washington County (hereinafter "Commissioners"), filed the Petition now before us, in which they seek: (1) direct review of an order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (hereinafter "PLRB") creating two bargaining units of employees directly involved with and necessary to the functioning of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County; (2) prohibition of allegedly improper conduct of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, President Judge Charles Sweet, and the Pennsylvania Conference of State

[ 490 Pa. Page 529]

Trial Judges (hereinafter "PCSTJ"); and (3) an order restraining the PLRB from taking any further action in the representation election scheduled for February 14, 1980.

The proceedings from which this matter arises began on June 19, 1972, when the Service Employees International Union (hereinafter "SEIU") filed with the PLRB a Petition for Representation of all court-related employees of Washington County. The first question to reach this Court was whether the judges of the Court of Common Pleas constitute the public employer of certain court-related employees for purposes of collective bargaining under the Public Employee Relations Act, Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 536, No. 195, as amended, 43 P.S. § 1101.101 et seq. (hereinafter "Act 195"). In Sweet v. PLRB, 457 Pa. 456, 322 A.2d 362 (1974) (Sweet I), we answered in the affirmative, holding that the judges "are at least an employer of some of the employees included in the bargaining unit comprised of court-related employees" Id., 457 Pa. at 462, 322 A.2d at 365 (emphasis in original). Subsequently, in Sweet v. PLRB, 479 Pa. 449, 388 A.2d 740 (1978) (Sweet II), we held that the "[C]ommissioners of Washington County are the managerial representative in collective bargaining and representation proceedings under [Act 195] involving employees supervised by judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, and that [the Commissioners'] exercise of this responsibility does not unconstitutionally interfere with the independence of the judiciary" Id., 479 Pa. at 450-51, 388 A.2d at 741 (footnotes omitted).*fn1 On July 14, 1978, we remanded to the PLRB for

[ 490 Pa. Page 530]

    proceedings consistent with our opinion. Following oral argument on the impact of Sweet II and related cases under Act 195 concerning public employers and managerial representatives in county government,*fn2 the PLRB issued a Nisi Order on February 5, 1979, certifying SEIU as the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit comprised of all professional and non-professional non-supervisory employees directly involved with and necessary to the functioning of the courts in Washington County. The Commissioners, the Court of Common Pleas, the PCSTJ and a group of public employees all filed timely exceptions to the Board's Nisi Order.*fn3 The Commissioners subsequently withdrew their exceptions, and the PLRB thereafter heard oral argument on those remaining.

On October 2, 1979, after consideration of the exceptions argued, the PLRB issued an Order and Notice of Pre-Election Conference in which it found that the bargaining unit previously certified was inappropriate since it included employees

[ 490 Pa. Page 531]

    who are hired, fired and supervised by the Court of Common Pleas with employees who are not. Citing its own decision in Berks County, 9 Pennsylvania Public Employee Reporter (PPER) § 9280 (1978), the PLRB concluded that employees hired, fired and supervised directly by the Court of Common Pleas should be included in a separate bargaining unit.*fn4 Noting the protracted history of this case, the PLRB did not dismiss SEIU's representation petition, filed on June 19, 1972, for want of an appropriate unit. Instead, a pre-election conference was ordered to determine the date and time for an election of the exclusive employee representative, if any, of the two separate bargaining units.

The PLRB thereafter issued an Order and Notice of Election fixing February 14, 1980 as the election date. On February 11, 1980, the Commissioners filed Petitions in the Commonwealth Court and in this Court seeking identical relief. By Order dated February 13, 1980, the Commonwealth Court denied the Commissioners' request for injunctive relief.*fn5 On February 27, 1980, we stayed all proceedings until further order.

In their Petition, the Commissioners seek to invoke this Court's plenary jurisdiction*fn6 and ask that we review the PLRB's October 2, 1979 Order and Notice of Pre-Election Conference and prohibit certain allegedly improper conduct

[ 490 Pa. Page 532]

    of PCSTJ, the Court of Common Pleas and President Judge Charles Sweet in connection with the proceedings before the PLRB. Petitioners also seek to invoke this Court's original jurisdiction and ask that we issue writs of prohibition against all respondents herein.*fn7 For the reasons which follow, we decline to exercise plenary jurisdiction to review the PLRB's order creating two bargaining units and find prohibition inappropriate.

Our extraordinary jurisdiction should be invoked sparingly, and only in cases "involving an issue of immediate public importance." 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 726. We have stated that

[t]he presence of an issue of immediate public importance is not alone sufficient to justify extraordinary relief. As in requests for writs of prohibition and mandamus, we will not invoke extraordinary jurisdiction unless the record clearly demonstrates a petitioner's rights. Even a clear showing that a petitioner is aggrieved does not assure that this Court will exercise its discretion to grant the requested relief. See Illinois v. City of Milwaukee, 406 U.S. 91, 92 S.Ct. 1385, 31 L.Ed.2d 712 (1972).

[ 490 Pa. Page 533]

Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Jerome, 478 Pa. 484, 494-95, 387 A.2d 425, 430 (1978), appeal dismissed, 443 U.S. 913, 99 S.Ct. 3104, 61 L.Ed.2d 877 (1979). Petitioners have not sustained this heavy burden, but simply have mistitled a premature petition for allowance of appeal as a request for extraordinary relief.*fn8 See Ben-Mar Mushroom Farms, Inc. Page 533} v. PLRB, 430 Pa. 407, 243 A.2d 372 (1968) (holding that a challenge to the PLRB's action before issuance of a final order certifying a bargaining representative of the employees involved is interlocutory in nature and will not be entertained).

We further conclude that the Commissioners' prayer for a writ of prohibition, an extraordinary remedy intended to prevent an inferior judicial tribunal from assuming jurisdiction it does not possess, is inappropriate under the facts here presented. See Commonwealth v. Mullen, 460 Pa. 336, 339, 333 A.2d 755, 756 (1975); Pirillo v. Takiff, 462 Pa. 511, 341 A.2d 896 (1975); Carpentertown Coal & Coke Co. v. Laird, 360 Pa. 94, 61 A.2d 426 (1948).*fn9 PCSTJ is not a judicial tribunal;*fn10 neither President Judge Sweet nor the Court of Common Pleas has attempted to assume jurisdiction over this matter;*fn11 and although they ultimately may be found to be erroneous, the actions of the PLRB here complained of are clearly within its jurisdiction.*fn12 Accordingly,

[ 490 Pa. Page 534]

    the Commissioners' request for a writ of prohibition is denied.

The Commissioners also sought an order restraining the PLRB from holding the election scheduled for February 14, 1980 or from taking any further action in this matter pending our review of the merits.*fn13

Section 605 of Act 195 provides, in relevant part:

Representation elections shall be conducted by secret ballot at such times and places selected by the board subject to the following:

(7)(i) No election shall be conducted pursuant to this section in any appropriate bargaining unit within which in the preceding twelve-month period and [sic] election shall have been held nor during the term of any lawful collective bargaining agreement between a public employer and an employe representative. . . .

43 P.S. § 1101.605. Because the election held on February 14, 1980 violated the express statutory mandate of Section 605, it clearly was invalid. Accordingly, we accept jurisdiction for the limited purpose of so holding. A representation election properly may be conducted only after expiration of the presently effective collective bargaining agreement on December 31, 1980.

Petition to invoke this Court's plenary jurisdiction and to issue a writ of prohibition is denied except for the limited purpose of declaring the February 14, 1980 election invalid.


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