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Troutman v. American Fed'n of State

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

March 13, 2014

James P. Troutman, in his capacity as Clerk of Courts of Berks County, Mark C. Baldwin, in his capacity as District Attorney of Berks County, Ellie Antoine, in her capacity as Recorder of Deeds of Berks County, Lawrence Medaglia, Jr., in his capacity as Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans Court of Berks County, Barry J. Jozwiak, in his capacity as Sheriff of Berks County, Dr. Nicholas Bybel, in his capacity as Coroner of Berks County, Marianne R. Sutton, in her capacity as Prothonotary of Berks County, Nelson H. Long, in his capacity as Treasurer of Berks County, and the County of Berks, ex rel. the Board of Commissioners of Berks County, Appellants
v.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 88, AFL-CIO

Argued: December 11, 2013.

Appealed from No. 02-14515. Common Pleas Court of the County of Berks. Rowley, J.

Joel S. Barras, Philadelphia, for appellants.

Amy L. Rosenberger, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE RENÉ E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE LEAVITT.

OPINION

Page 955

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

Various Row Officers[1] of Berks County and the Board of Commissioners of Berks County (collectively, Row Officers) appeal an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County (trial court) that granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 88, AFL-CIO (Union) in a declaratory judgment action. The trial court also denied a motion for summary judgment filed by Row Officers. The trial court held that Row Officers were obligated to comply with provisions in the collective bargaining agreement relating to the discharge and discipline of employees and to the procedures for filling vacant positions. Because the trial court's order infringes upon Row Officers' statutory right to hire, fire and supervise their employees under Section 1620 of the County Code (also known as Act 115),[2] we reverse the grant of summary judgment to Union, vacate the denial

Page 956

of summary judgment to Row Officers and remand for further proceedings.

Background

The parties stipulated to the facts that are relevant to this appeal, and a summary follows. The County and Row Officers are joint employers under the Public Employe Relations Act (PERA)[3] of all employees of Row Officers who are represented by Union. In 1994, the County and Union entered into a collective bargaining agreement effective January 1, 1995, through December 31, 1999 (1995 CBA), that governed qualifications, including seniority, for vacant positions. Shortly thereafter, some Row Officers began filling vacant positions without following the seniority provisions in the 1995 CBA. On March 9, 1995, Union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (Board), asserting that the manner by which Row Officers filled the vacant positions conflicted with the seniority provisions contained in the 1995 CBA. In defending against the unfair labor practice charge, Row Officers asserted that Section 1620 of the County Code gives them complete autonomy over filling vacant positions and that, to the extent the seniority provisions contained in the 1995 CBA conflicted with Section 1620, those provisions were illegal and void.

The Board found in Union's favor, holding that the County's repudiation of the seniority provisions in the CBA was unlawful. The County and several Row Officers petitioned the trial court for review of the Board's decision, and the trial court vacated the Board's order. Union and the Board then appealed to this Court.

This Court reversed the decision of the trial court, holding that Row Officers were bound by the seniority provisions in the 1995 CBA. Troutman v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 735 A.2d 192 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999), appeal denied, 563 Pa. 624, 757 A.2d 937 (2000) ( Troutman I ). We so held because the record showed that Row Officers had tacitly acquiesced to the seniority provisions in the 1995 CBA. Notably, we did not directly address the question of whether Row Officers would have been bound by the seniority provisions in the 1995 CBA had they raised a specific objection to them during the bargaining process. Likewise, we did not address the related issue of whether Row Officers could insist that the County Commissioners heed their instructions not to bind them to the seniority provisions, had such instructions been given.

On May 1, 1998, while the litigation in Troutman I was still pending, James Troutman, in his capacity as the County's Clerk of Courts, sent a letter to the County Commissioners which stated as follows:

In regard to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the County and [Union], and acknowledging that this will expire the end of next year, I wish to state that I do not authorize any negotiation on behalf of myself in regard to the hiring, termination or supervision of employees in my office . I believe that you are aware of my position previously and are now aware of the lawsuit involving my colleagues and [Union]. I see no reason to restate that entire case; however, it is my position that the authority granted to you under the County Code shall be specifically complied with and that your negotiation on my behalf shall only concern wages and conditions of employment and shall exclude matters as set forth in the County Code.

Reproduced Record at 8a-9a (R.R. ) (emphasis added). Soon thereafter, several

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other Row Officers submitted similar letters to the County Commissioners.[4] Row Officers desired the County Commissioners to bargain to the result that Row Office employees would be at will employees.

In spite of these directives from Row Officers, the County Commissioners negotiated Articles 28, 29 and 33 into the next CBA, i.e ., the 2000 CBA. Row Officers specifically objected to these three provisions which, collectively, are referred to as the " Disputed Provisions."

Article 28 is titled " Discharge, Demotion, Suspension and Discipline." R.R. 56a. In relevant part, Section 28.1 of Article 28 provides as follows:

The Employer shall not demote, suspend, discharge or take any disciplinary action against an employee without just cause.

Id. Article 29 is titled " Seniority." R.R. 57a. Section 29.1 of Article 29 provides for two types of seniority:

1. AFSCME Bargaining Seniority -- an employee's continuous length of service with the employer in an AFSCME bargaining unit.
2. Department Seniority -- an employee's length of continuous service in a department.

Id. Section 29.3(E) requires that job vacancies be awarded to the employee with the most department seniority. R.R. 58a. If no one with department seniority applies, then the job is to be awarded to the employee with the most AFSCME bargaining unit seniority. Article 29 further sets forth procedures for job bidding and job displacement (bumping).

Article 33 is titled " Grievance and Arbitration." R.R. 64a. It sets forth the steps in submitting a grievance and initiating arbitration.

Row Officers contend that their right to hire, fire and supervise their employees under Section 1620 has been eviscerated by Article 28's requirement that discipline be supported by just cause and by Article 29's requirements that Row Officers fill vacant positions based on seniority and submit to bidding and bumping procedures. Relatedly, Row Officers argue that they should not be subject to grievance and arbitration procedures, which are set forth in Article 33, for disputes arising under Articles 28 and 29.

Because of the outstanding dispute over the proper application of Section 1620, the parties decided to agree on the remaining provisions of a new agreement while they pursued a judicial resolution of how Section 1620 affects collective bargaining. Accordingly, in August of 2001, the County, Union and Row Officers executed an agreement (Side Agreement) by which it was agreed that the County and Row Officers would institute the instant declaratory judgment action. The parties further agreed that any grievance filed by Union alleging a Row Officer's violation of the Disputed Provisions of the collective bargaining agreement would be held in abeyance pending the conclusion of the declaratory judgment action. The Side Agreement has remained in effect since its execution.

With respect to each collective bargaining agreement that followed the 2000 CBA, each Row Officer has sent letters to the County ...


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