City of Allentown v. Int’l Ass’n of Fire Fighters Local 302: Minimum staffing is not managerial prerogative
In order to facilitate efficient and final labor agreements for public entities, Pennsylvania’s Act 111 provides for binding arbitration where an impasse in negotiations is reached. Such arbitration award can only deal with matters rationally related to the terms and conditions of employment, however, and specifically exempted from the realm of matters related to employment are those matters which are “managerial prerogative.”
The trouble begins where a matter that is fairly within the parameters of the terms and conditions of employment is also a matter of managerial prerogative. In City of Allentown v. International Association of Fire Fighters Local 302, the Court applied its three part, shifting test, developed in past cases, to hold that an arbitration award layout out minimum staffing requirements for firefighters did not “unduly infringe” upon the public employer’s essential managerial responsibilities, and so was a valid arbitration award.
The firefighter union and the City of Allentown (subject of Billy Joel’s famous blue-collar anthem) failed to reach terms on a collective bargaining agreement, and the matter was certified for binding arbitration in 2011. The arbitration panel issued an Award in November 2013 which required, among other things, a minimum of twenty-five firefighters employed on each shift. Allentown appealed, arguing that the minimum staffing requirement was within the city’s “managerial prerogative,” and thus not subject to an arbitration award in a collective bargaining dispute.
Majority, Todd: Allentown failed to demonstrate undue infringement
In illustrating the difficulties found in this case, Justice Todd evokes the image of a Venn Diagram, illustrated here for convenience.
Those matters which are “managerial prerogative” are not to be included in an arbitration award to resolve a collective bargaining dispute. But those matters which are fairly included in the terms and conditions of employment must be included. Thus, when these two overlap, the Appellate Courts of the Commonwealth are called upon to do some line drawing.
Todd lays out the policy considerations at play in adjudicating collective bargaining agreements, then lays out an established three-part test and applies it.
- Where a topic is “rationally related” to the terms and conditions of employment (and thus subject to the right of collective bargaining); and
- where such topic also implicates a “managerial responsibility”;
- the municipality bears the burden of demonstrating that the topic would “unduly infringe” upon the public employer’s essential managerial responsibilities.
In the case at hand, the municipality failed to bear its burden on part three. While setting requirements for total force staffing would be managerial prerogative, Allentown failed to counteract the uncontradicted testimony that the safety of firefighters was directly threatened by a failure to meet certain minimum thresholds of staffing.
The Court sought some evidence that the burden on the City’s managerial prerogative was so great as to make the arbitration award unacceptable; but Allentown failed to meet this burden. “[T]here is a direct and significant relationship between the number of individuals available to respond to a call at a station . . . . and the safety of the City’s firefighters.” Thus, the award was properly within the purview of collective bargaining, and was allowed to stand.
Saylor: Are we going to do this every time?
Chief Justice Saylor penned a concurrence urging courts to “minimize such fact-finding and defer” to arbitration panels. Concerned that decisions such as this one will create a body of caselaw that will lead to small cities governed by fact-intensive inquiries settled in cases involving large cities, and vice-verse. Saylor would leave such matters in the sound discretion of arbitration panels wherever possible.
Dougherty: Undue Infringement is a High, Evidence-Driven Bar
Justice Dougherty’s concurrence reminds the reader that “[p]olice officers and firefighters gave up the ability to strike in exchange for the right to bargain collectively,” and argues that a municipality’s burden must be high in order to show that the infringement on its managerial prerogative is undue; he also urges that the burden of proof rests on the municipality.