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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (06/26/87)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: June 26, 1987.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, RESPONDENT

Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, in case of Pennsylvania Nurses Association v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare, Case No. PERA-C-85-152-E, dated May 6, 1986.

COUNSEL

Steven O. Newhouse, Assistant Counsel, with him, John D. Raup, Chief Counsel, for petitioner.

James L. Crawford, with him, Arlene F. Klinedinst, John B. Neurohr and Richard C. Lengler, for respondent.

Steven A. Stine, with him, William Fearen, Cleckner and Fearen, for intervenor, The Pennsylvania Nurses Association.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Barry, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 133]

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare (Commonwealth), appeals the final order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (Board) upholding a hearing examiner's proposed decision and order which concluded that the Commonwealth had committed unfair labor practices in violation of Section 1201(a)(5) of the Public Employe Relations Act (PERA).*fn1

The unfair labor practice charge stemmed from the Commonwealth's refusal to provide the Pennsylvania

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 134]

Nurses Association (PNA) with information it had requested to assist in the processing of grievances filed by William Pannacci, a union member.

Pannacci, a pharmacist at Clarks Summit State Hospital, filed four separate grievances alleging improper personnel promotions,*fn2 unilateral changes in the pharmacy's hours of operation and work schedules,*fn3 and a discriminatory performance evaluation.*fn4

When the Commonwealth declined to provide the requested information for grievance arbitration, the PNA filed the instant complaint alleging that the Commonwealth was violating its duty to bargain in good faith. The hearing examiner found that the PNA set forth a cause of action which was not appropriate for deferral pending the grievance arbitration and ordered the Commonwealth to provide the PNA with the requested information.*fn5 The Board affirmed the examiner's decision but modified it to eliminate certain information requests.

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 135]

Our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether the factual findings of the Board were supported by substantial evidence and its conclusions of law were reasonable. Repko v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 99 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 289, 513 A.2d 518 (1986).

The Commonwealth contends that the Board's order must be set aside because the Board abused its discretion by refusing to defer consideration of the information requests until settlement of the underlying arbitration grievances. It argues that deferral would have protected the Commonwealth from unnecessarily disclosing information in cases of frivolous claims. We disagree.

We note at the outset that when no meaningful difference exists between established policies of the PERA and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA),*fn6 we look to federal decisions for guidance. Burse v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 56 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 555, 425 A.2d 1182 (1981). The similar language and purposes of Section 1201(a)(5) of PERA and Section 158(a)(5) of NLRA permits us to be guided by federal decisions in interpreting PERA.

Courts of federal jurisdiction have dealt with issues of discovery in the processing of arbitration grievances and have found that state employers have a duty to furnish information which would enable unions to make informed decisions about whether to pursue such grievances. See, e.g., San Diego Newspaper Guild v. National Labor Relations Board, 548 F.2d 863 (9th Cir. 1977). Furthermore, the duty to provide information has been said to be a statutory obligation which exists independent

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 136]

    of the agreement between the parties. National Labor Relations Board v. Designcraft Jewel Industries, Inc., 675 F.2d 493 (2d Cir. 1982). We believe Section 1201(a)(5) of PERA creates a similar statutory obligation. As in National Labor Relations Board v. Acme Industrial Co., 385 U.S. 432 (1967), where the Supreme Court held that unions were entitled to reasonable discovery of relevant materials in order to make an intelligent evaluation of the merits of the underlying claim, it is clear that the PNA must be allowed to obtain relevant information in order to perform its duties as specified in the parties' collective bargaining agreement (agreement).

The Commonwealth next contends that the Board erred by requiring it to furnish the PNA with information concerning non-unit employees who are not covered by the agreement. The Commonwealth argues that this information is not relevant to the PNA's duty to "police" the agreement. We disagree.

The Supreme Court in Acme stated that relevancy should be determined under a discovery-type standard wherein the courts of necessity must follow a more liberal standard as to relevancy.*fn7 Further, since the PNA is seeking information in connection with its pursuit of grievances, the Board need only find: (1) that the union is advancing a grievance which on its face is governed by the parties' agreement, and (2) that the information will be useful to the union. Acme at 437.

Here, Pannacci's grievances against his supervisor and the Administrative Director were brought under agreement Articles 28 and 36, which prohibit employment discrimination and govern managerial rights, respectively.*fn8

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 137]

It is not required that the PNA show that it will succeed on the merits of these grievances but only that its request for information is factually relevant to the grievants' demand.*fn9 In addition, by producing evidence suggestive of bad faith, the PNA has satisfied the liberal standard of relevancy, thereby entitling it to the requested information. Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board, 347 F.2d 61 (3d Cir. 1965). We hold, therefore, that since the grievances on their faces are subject to the PNA's contract and demonstrate a need for the requested information, the Board did not err in ordering the Commonwealth to produce the information on non-bargaining unit employees.

The Commonwealth's final contention that the Board erred by requiring it to reduce to writing its reasons for particular managerial decisions which are not currently in written form is also without merit.

In Curtiss-Wright Corp., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that information pertaining to employees is presumptively relevant. Under the federal statutes, there is an obligation for an employer to make a diligent effort to obtain presumptively relevant information sought by the union.*fn10 National Labor Relations Board v. Borden, Inc., 600 F.2d 313 (1st Cir. 1979).

Here, the relevance of the requested information is beyond dispute. It goes to the heart of Pannacci's performance evaluation and to the reason behind the

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 138]

    changes in operations which are at issue in the underlying grievances. Moreover, the Board found that some of the requested information can be gleaned from existing internal memoranda on personnel actions. The PNA's inquiries to the Commonwealth are in the nature of interrogatory discovery requests and can be answered objectively. Therefore, it was not unreasonable for the Board to conclude that due diligence required the Commonwealth to reduce to writing the reasons for the particular administrative decisions.

Accordingly, we hold that the Commonwealth committed unfair practices in violation of Section 1201(a)(5) of the Act by failing to provide the requested information.

We affirm the final order of the Board.

Order

The final order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, No. PERA-C-85-152-E dated May 6, 1986, is affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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