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Washington County v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 18, 2013

Washington County, Petitioner
v.
Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, Respondent

Argued: April 15, 2013

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

OPINION

ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

Washington County (County) petitions for review of the June 19, 2012, final order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) dismissing the exceptions filed by County to the proposed decision and order of the hearing examiner and concluding that County committed unfair labor practices in violation of section 1201(a) of the Public Employe Relations Act (PERA).[1] We affirm.

The Washington Court Association of Professional Employees, affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 84 (Union), represents court-appointed juvenile and adult probation officers employed by County. County and Union were parties to a 2002-03 collective bargaining agreement (Agreement). Article VII of the Agreement, titled "HOURS OF WORK AND MEAL PERIODS, " provided that "[t]he work shift shall consist of seven-and-one-half (7.5) work hours within a workday of Juvenile and Adult Probation Officers." (Findings of Fact, No. 4.)

County and Union could not reach a successor agreement and proceeded to interest arbitration in accordance with section 805 of PERA.[2] The arbitration panel issued an award (Miles Award) effective January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2006. The Miles Award changed the language in Article VII of the Agreement to provide that "[t]he work shift shall consist of eight (8) work hours within a work day of Juvenile and Adult probation officers." (Findings of Fact, No. 4.)

The President Judge of the Washington County Court of Common Pleas (Court of Common Pleas) notified the County Commissioners that he refused to implement the shift provision of the Miles Award. On May 3, 2004, County petitioned the Court of Common Pleas to vacate the Miles Award. (Findings of Fact, No. 5.) On April 19, 2007, Senior Judge Millin issued an order granting County's petition to vacate the Miles Award with respect to the extension of the paid work shift. (Findings of Fact, No. 6.) Union appealed to this court.

In the meantime, County and Union still could not reach a successor agreement to the Miles Award and proceeded to arbitration. On September 24, 2007, an interest arbitration panel issued an award (Petersen I Award), which was retroactively effective from January 1, 2007, through December 31, 2009. The Petersen I Award granted a one-time bonus of $1, 200 and an additional one percent wage increase to Union members employed as of May 3, 2004, the date County filed its petition to vacate the Miles Award. The Petersen I Award did not address the additional one-half hour workday extension ordered in the Miles Award. (Findings of Fact, Nos. 8-9.)

On May 14, 2008, this court issued an order reversing Judge Millin's decision and reinstating the provisions of the Miles Award, increasing the paid workday from seven-and-one-half to eight hours. Washington County v. Washington Court Association of Professional Employees, 948 A.2d 271, 278 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2008). On April 8, 2010, the Supreme Court denied County's petition for allowance of appeal. Washington County v. Washington Court Association of Professional Employees, 606 Pa. 652, 992 A.2d 890 (2010). On April 12, 2010, the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas changed the workday for adult and juvenile probation officers from seven-and-one-half hours of paid work time to eight hours of paid work time. (Findings of Fact, No. 12.)

On August 5, 2010, Union filed a charge of unfair labor practices with the PLRB, alleging that County violated section 1201(a)(1) and (5) of PERA by refusing to retroactively implement the provision of the Miles Award that extended the paid work shift by one-half hour.

County and Union were again unable to reach a successor agreement. On August 12, 2010, an interest arbitration panel issued an award (Petersen II Award). The Petersen II Award did not address the one-half hour workday addition. (Findings of Fact, No. 13.)

On February 9, 2011, the hearing examiner held a hearing on the charge of unfair labor practices. In his proposed decision and order of February 16, 2012, the hearing examiner concluded that Union filed its charge of unfair labor practices within four months of when the Miles Award became enforceable and, thus, the filing was timely under section 1505 of PERA, 43 P.S. §1101.1505. The hearing examiner also concluded that County was properly named as the respondent in the charge and was liable for the unfair labor practice. Further, County was not entitled to an offset from the backpay due to the employees as a result of the intervening Petersen Awards.

County filed exceptions with the PLRB arguing that Union's charge of unfair labor practices was not timely filed. County maintained that the statute of limitations for Union's charge of unfair labor practices, alleging noncompliance with the Miles Award, commenced with the issuance of the award in 2004 and expired four months later, while County's appeal of the award was pending in the Court of Common Pleas. Additionally, County argued that the hearing examiner erred in ordering County to pay back wages and in finding that by pursuing appeals of the Miles Award on behalf of the Court of Common Pleas, County assumed responsibility for refusing to implement the Miles Award. The PLRB dismissed the exceptions and ordered the hearing examiner's proposed decision and order absolute and final. This appeal followed.[3]

Initially, County argues that the PLRB erred in concluding that County is liable for an alleged unfair labor practice committed by the Court of Common Pleas on the theory that the obligation to pay employees for an extended workday is separate from the Court of Common Pleas' decision not to extend the workday.

In accordance with section 1620 of The County Code, [4] the County Commissioners are the bargaining representatives for the purposes of collective bargaining with court-related and court-appointed employees. County of Lehigh v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 507 Pa. 270, 277, 489 A.2d 1325, 1328 (1985). Section 1620 of The County Code states:

The salaries and compensation of county officers shall be as now or hereafter fixed by law. The salaries and compensation of all appointed officers and employes who are paid from the county treasury shall be fixed by the salary board created by this act for such purposes:
Provided, however, That with respect to representation proceedings before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board or collective bargaining negotiations involving any or all employes paid from the county treasury, the board of county commissioners shall have the sole power and responsibility to represent judges of the court of common pleas, the county and all elected or appointed county officers having any employment powers over the affected employes. The exercise of such responsibilities by the county commissioners shall in no way affect the ...

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