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Court rules Teamsters can represent both Lower Swatara police and other employees

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/8/19

Lower Swatara Police Department officers can be represented by the same union as the township’s unionized public works and other non-public works administrative personnel, according to a recent …

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Court rules Teamsters can represent both Lower Swatara police and other employees

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Lower Swatara Police Department officers can be represented by the same union as the township’s unionized public works and other non-public works administrative personnel, according to a recent Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruling.

The issue of whether Teamsters Local 776 can represent both groups of employees was before the court for several months. The township argued the officers constitute as “guards” under the Public Employee Relations Act and couldn’t be represented by the same union as its non-uniform staff, according to court documents.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board rejected the township’s argument; in September, the township appealed that decision to the Commonwealth Court.

On May 2, the court upheld the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board’s decision.

About 15 police officers and 12 non-uniform employees are part of the Teamsters.

The purpose of having separate collective bargaining groups for security guards and other staff was that during strikes or unrest, “the employer would have ‘guards’ who could enforce rules for the protection of property and safety of persons without being confronted with a division of loyalty between the employer and dissatisfied fellow union member,” Judge Anne Covey wrote in the court decision, quoting a 1974 case between Falls Township and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

“On behalf of the police who serve and protect the township 24/7 and 365 days a year, we are gratified that this chapter has been concluded,” attorney Irwin Aronson, who represented Teamsters Local 776, told the Press & Journal. “We hope that the township does not further attempt to frustrate the rights of the township police officers, and the interests of the township residents, by attempting to appeal this well-reasoned Commonwealth Court decision, and they look forward to a long and mutually beneficial and productive relationship with the township.”

Attorney Michael McAuliffe Miller, who represented Lower Swatara, said the township asked the court for guidance “on how employees who might have divided loyalties during labor unrest must be organized.”

Miller said the township hasn’t decided if it wants to appeal the decision or advocate for the law to change, adding that it would consider its options.

Township public works and some non-public works administrative personnel voted to be represented by the Teamsters in December 2017.

The township police officers had been represented by the Lower Swatara Township Police Civic Association. In May 2018, a secret ballot was held for representation of the township’s full- and part-time officers excluding police chief and managerial staff. With 50 percent or more of the votes for Teamster representation, the Teamsters were certified as the officers’ collective bargaining representative.

Lower Swatara filed an exception to the certification with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. The township argued that having the police and the other employees represented by the same union violated the “guard exception” under the Public Employee Relations Act, or PERA.

A hearing examiner appointed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board concluded that acording to Act 111, or the Policeman and Fireman Collective Bargaining Act, officers aren’t security guards under PERA.

“Furthermore, uniformed police officers could not violate their sworn duty to protect citizens and property simply because non-uniformed township employees, represented by Local 776, were picketing or striking, in the event that Local 776 becomes the certified bargaining representative of the officers,” Covey wrote, quoting the hearing examiner.

Police and fire personnel are not permitted to strike, according to the judge.

Aronson said the court’s decision confirms the officers’ “free choice” to be represented by the Teamsters “may not be interfered with, impeded, coerced or set aside by the township or its elected officials.”

“The police have a right to be represented by the collective bargaining representative of their choice,” he said.