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Lancaster County v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Bd.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

June 16, 2014


Argued September 11, 2013

Page 980

Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered January 11, 2012 at No. 644 CD 2011 which reversed the Order of PA Labor Relations Board dated March 15, 2011 at No. PERA-U-09-465-E. Dan Pellegrini, Judge, Robert E. Simpson, Judge, Mary Hannah Leavitt, Judge.

For AFSCME district Council 89, INTERVENOR: Lauren Miller Hoye, Esq., Amy Louise Rosenberger, Esq., Willig, Williams & Davidson.

For Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, APPELLANT: Warren R. Mowery Jr., Esq., PA Labor Relations Board; John Best Neurohr, Esq.

For Lancaster County, APPELLEE: Susan Ruth Friedman, Esq., Stevens & Lee, P.C.; Brad Michael Kushner, Esq.



Page 981


In this appeal by allowance, we determine whether county prison maintenance employees who supervise inmates constitute " guards at prisons" for purposes of collective bargaining unit placement under the Pennsylvania Employe Relations Act (" PERA" ), 43 P.S. § 1101.604(3). For the reasons that follow, we hold that the Commonwealth Court did not apply the proper level of deference in its appellate review of the decision of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (" Board" ) which concluded that supervisory maintenance employees at issue are " guards at prisons" for purposes of collective bargaining. Thus, we reverse the decision of the Commonwealth Court and reinstate the Board's determination.

The background of this appeal is uncontested. In 1975, the Board certified Intervenor, AFSCME, District Council 89 (" Union" ) as the exclusive representative of a unit for purposes of collective bargaining which included, inter alia, prison security guards, special guards, and transportation, maintenance, and supply employees. Since the unit certification, Appellee Lancaster County (" County" ) and the Union have been parties to several collective bargaining agreements. However, notwithstanding the Board's certification of maintenance employees in the bargaining unit, the parties have not negotiated over the wages, hours, and conditions of employment for the Maintenance Mechanic I and Maintenance Mechanic II positions.

On November 18, 2009, the County Commissioners adopted a reorganization plan that placed all County maintenance and custodial employees under the centralized Facilities Management Department (" Department" ). Two days later, on November 20, 2009, the Union filed with the Board a petition for bargaining unit clarification

Page 982

which sought to include the positions of Maintenance Mechanic I and Maintenance Mechanic II in the unit of prison guards. At the time of this appeal, the County employed one individual in the Maintenance Mechanic I position, and six individuals in the Maintenance Mechanic II position.

After a hearing at which the various duties of Maintenance Mechanics, as well as other employees in the existing bargaining unit, were set forth, the Hearing Examiner for the Board determined, based upon the evidence, as well as prior Board precedent, that Maintenance Mechanics were " guards at prisons" within the meaning of Section 604(3) of PERA (prohibiting guards at prisons and mental hospitals from inclusion in any unit with other public employees). Therefore, the Hearing Examiner granted the Union's petition and amended the bargaining unit to include the Maintenance Mechanic I and Maintenance Mechanic II positions. The County appealed to the Board.

The Board, in its Final Order, affirmed the decision of the Hearing Examiner, determining that, because Maintenance Mechanics supervised inmates while they were working outside of the prison walls and, indeed, were the only employees watching the inmates when they were outside, they played a role in the security of the prison, and, thus, were properly classified as guards at prisons. The Board explained that, as part of the supervision of inmates in areas that were not secured, Maintenance Mechanics kept track of the inmates, sounded an alarm if a prisoner attempted to escape, could discipline inmates, could secure inmates and break up fights, and ensured that inmates did not steal tools that could be turned into weapons. Ultimately, the Board concluded that, because the County entrusted Maintenance Mechanics with the care, custody, and control of inmates under their supervision, and because they were part of the security infrastructure of the prison, they were properly included in the prison guard bargaining unit.

On further appeal by the County, a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court reversed in a divided published opinion. Lancaster Co. v. PLRB, 35 A.3d 73 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012). Looking to Section 604 of PERA, the Commonwealth Court majority, following a review of the hearing testimony, concluded that Maintenance Mechanics did not qualify as " guards at prisons" because they were not employed to provide security or ensure that inmates remained in custody, but, rather, were employed to carry out maintenance functions. Specifically, with respect to the security aspect of their work, the court found, inter alia, that Maintenance Mechanics were not responsible for ensuring that prisoners remained in custody, did not impose discipline, handcuff inmates, perform searches or " shake-downs," quell disruptions or fights, were not responsible for escaped inmates, and did not man guard stations. While acknowledging the employees supervised work release inmates, the court reasoned that they did so akin to a private employer who had work release employees, and that the supervision was to ensure that maintenance tasks were completed. The court noted that Maintenance Mechanics had responsibility only over those inmates on work release, and did not have contact with other types of inmates. According to the court, unlike Maintenance Mechanics, prison guards wore uniforms, received extensive training in first aid, weapons, self-defense, hostage situations, inmate suicide prevention, escape situations, riots, and cell-block reporting, and were expected to aid in resolving disturbances. Maintenance Mechanics, according to the court, only attended a training course that all other mechanics in the prison

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attended to familiarize themselves with prison policy. Thus, the Commonwealth Court determined that Maintenance Mechanics were not prison guards within the meaning of Section 604 of PERA, and, thus, reversed the decision of ...

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