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HONORABLE PAUL R. BECKERT v. AMERICAN FEDERATION STATE (02/11/81)

decided: February 11, 1981.

THE HONORABLE PAUL R. BECKERT, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE JUDGES OF THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF BUCKS COUNTY, PETITIONERS
v.
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, DISTRICT COUNCIL 88, AFL-CIO ET AL., RESPONDENTS



Original jurisdiction in the case of The Honorable Paul R. Beckert, individually and on behalf of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 88, AFL-CIO and Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

COUNSEL

James M. Penny, Jr. with him Anthony F. Visco, Jr., and Doreen S. Davis-Rosenfeld, Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, for petitioners.

Jonathan Walters, Kirschner, Walters & Willig, for respondent, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Theodore M. Lieverman, Assistant Attorney General, with him James L. Crawford and Mary Teresa Gavigan, for respondent, Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

President Judge Crumlish and Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Rogers, Blatt, Craig, MacPhail and Williams, Jr. Judge Mencer did not participate. Opinion by Judge Williams, Jr. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Craig.

Author: Williams

[ 56 Pa. Commw. Page 575]

Directed to this Court's original jurisdiction under Section 761(a)(1) of the Judicial Code,*fn1 the Honorable Paul R. Beckert (petitioner) has filed an action in equity against District Council 88 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (union) and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (Board). Suing on behalf of himself and the other judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, the petitioner seeks to enjoin the Board from assuming jurisdiction over an unfair labor practice charge made by the union against the judges and the commissioners of Bucks County.*fn2 Instantly before us is the petitioner's motion for summary relief, as well as the respondents' preliminary objections urging us to dismiss the action.

In March 1977 the union, acting as bargaining representative for the non-professional court employees, including the clerks of the district justices, entered into an agreement or "Memorandum of Understanding" with the commissioners of Bucks County and the judges of the Court of Common Pleas.

Article XVIII of the agreement sets forth a three step procedure for the resolution of grievances or disputes between the parties concerning the meaning and application of the agreement. "Step One" provides for a grievance to be first submitted to the employee's department head. If the grievance is not thereby resolved, it may be appealed to "Step Two," the Court Administrator. If the grievance is not resolved at that stage, an appeal may be taken to "Step Three," the President Judge.

[ 56 Pa. Commw. Page 576]

The terms of a "Step Three" appeal are that the President Judge, or his designees, shall render a final written decision within ten days after the next regularly scheduled Board of Judges meeting, and that grievances shall not be subject to arbitration.

Under Article XVII of the agreement no employee may be demoted, suspended, discharged or disciplined without just cause. It is also provided that an employee may appeal any such action by beginning at "Step Two" of the grievance procedure set forth in Article XVIII. Article XVII also provides that it shall not apply to the extent that it is in conflict with constitutional provisions, statutes, regulations or judicial decisions regarding the operation of the judiciary.

In August 1979 Margaret Minnichbach, a clerk of a district justice, was discharged from her employment. Pursuant to Article XVII, she appealed the discharge by commencing at "Step Two" of the grievance procedure set forth in Article XVIII. Apparently an accord was reached between the Court Administrator and the union, and as a result the employee was to be reinstated. However, the district justice appealed the matter to the President Judge pursuant to "Step Three" of the Article XVIII procedure. On October 1, 1979, two Common Pleas judges acting as designees of the President Judge upheld the discharge.

In the wake of the "Step Three" decision upholding the discharge, the union filed with the Board unfair labor practice charges against the county commissioners and the Court of Common Pleas, alleging violation of Sections 1201 (a)(1) and (5) of the Public Employe Relations Act (PERA).*fn3

Specifically, the union contended that the commissioners and the judges had failed to bargain in good

[ 56 Pa. Commw. Page 577]

    faith in that they had not honored the appeal rules set forth under Article XVIII of the agreement. In that regard, the union theorized that the Court Administrator had resolved the matter favorably to the employee at the "Step Two" level, and that under the terms of Article XVIII the employer had no right to appeal the matter further to "Step Three." What is perhaps the same point in varied form, the union also alleged that the commissioners and the judges violated PERA by not honoring the accord which the union reached with the court Administrator at "Step Two," and that under the terms of Article XVIII the employer had no legal right to contest that accord further.

On November 8, 1979, the Board acted on the union's charges by issuing a Complaint and Notice of Hearing, pursuant to Section 1302 of PERA.*fn4 As a consequence, the Honorable Paul R. Beckert, President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, filed in the Commonwealth Court a petition for review in the nature of a complaint in equity, seeking to permanently enjoin the Board from exercising jurisdiction over the unfair labor practice charges. Contemporaneously, the petitioner requested the issuance of a preliminary injunction.

The union filed preliminary objections challenging the subject matter jurisdiction of this Court. Preliminary objections were also filed by the Board, asserting that (1) the petitioner is precluded from relief by principles of res judicata ; (2) the petitioner's complaint fails to state a cause of action; (3) this Court ...


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