Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered February 26, 1996, at No. 1803 C.D. 1995, reversing the Order entered June 20, 1995 in the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Civil Division, at No. 9404- SD-0228.
Before: Flaherty, C.j., And Zappala, Cappy, Castille And Nigro, JJ. Madame Justice Newman did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Mr. Justice Nigro concurs in the result.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaherty
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FLAHERTY
The sole question in this appeal is whether the lay teachers and librarians employed by the Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, a private Catholic elementary and secondary school, are "public employees" within the meaning of Section 301(2) of the Public Employe Relations Act (PERA), Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 563, as amended, 43 P.S. §§ 1101.101-1101.2301.
The case began in 1993 when two teachers at the Academy, Fagan and Doyle, allegedly attempted to organize a teachers' union. On June 9, 1993 the Association of Catholic Teachers, Local 1776 (the Association) filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) to compel an election pursuant to Section 603 of PERA, 43 P.S. § 11001.603. *fn1 On June 18, 1993, the association filed a second petition, alleging that the Academy had terminated the employment of Fagan and Doyle because of their efforts to organize a union.
The secretary of the PLRB dismissed the petition because the Academy was not a "public employer" and because the employees were not "public employes" within the meaning of Section 301 of PERA. The PLRB dismissed exceptions and affirmed the secretary, holding that the teachers were not public employees.
The teachers appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, which reversed the PLRB, holding that the PLRB had jurisdiction. The academy appealed to Commonwealth Court, which reversed the trial court, holding that the statutory language which defines "public employe" excludes Catholic school teachers from coverage by the PERA.
We granted allocatur to consider the two issues raised by appellants: whether Catholic school employees are included by the PERA; and if they are, whether their inclusion violates the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The parameters of our inquiry are set by the United States Supreme Court in National Labor Relations Board v. The Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 440 U.S. 490, 99 S. Ct. 1313, 59 L. Ed. 2d 533 (1979). In that case, the National Labor Relations Board ordered certain Catholic schools to bargain collectively with teachers' unions representing lay teachers. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the board, and the United States Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit's reversal, holding that the National Labor Relations Act does not extend to lay teachers employed by church-operated schools. The Court's rationale was that if the Board assumed jurisdiction over teachers in church-operated schools, there might be conflicts between the Board, an agency of government, and the church, which might implicate First Amendment religion clauses. *fn2 The Court concluded that jurisdiction, therefore, should not be conferred unless there was a "clear expression of an affirmative intention of Congress that teachers in church-operated schools should be covered by the Act." 440 U.S. at 504, 99 S. Ct. at , 59 L. Ed. 2d at 543. The Court concluded:
Accordingly, in the absence of a clear expression of Congress' intent to bring teachers in church-operated schools within the jurisdiction of the Board, we decline to construe the Act in a manner that could in turn call upon the Court to resolve difficult and sensitive questions arising out of the guarantees of the First Amendment Religion Clauses.
440 U.S. at 507, 99 S. Ct. at , 59 L. Ed. 2d at 545.
Although the National Labor Relations Act and the Public Employee Relations Act are not coterminous, in both Catholic Bishop and the present case the ultimate question is whether the unionization of lay employees of church-operated schools necessarily leads to government involvement which would violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. We are, therefore, bound by the analysis of Catholic Bishop. Thus, our first inquiry is whether the PERA clearly mandates the inclusion of teachers employed by church-operated schools as public employees. The PERA defines "public employe" as follows:
any individual employed by a public employer but shall not include . . . clergymen or other persons in a religious profession, employes or personnel at church offices or facilities when ...