Are Deputies Considered ''Guards'' Under Public Employe Relations Act ?

In Washington County v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 149 Pa. Commw. 603, 613 A.2d 670, 674 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992) the employer-County opposed the petition for representation that the deputies be considered guards under Public Employe Relations Act (PERA). Therefore, in Washington County, this Court looked at whether the deputies actually provided security at the County's health center and jail during a labor strike to determine whether they should be considered guards under PERA. Because the employer opposed the petition, the Court was not looking to "protect" the employer. See Township of Falls, 322 A.2d at 414 (stating that the purpose of Section 604(3) of PERA is to ensure protection of the employer and the employer's premises during labor unrest). In contrast, when, in Erie County, the employer argued in favor of the employees being considered as guards, the Court used a more relaxed standard, requiring only that there be a mere possibility of protecting employer property by the employees in the event of a labor dispute. Recently, this Court was again confronted with the same issue in Franklin County Deputy Sheriff's Association v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 885 A.2d 613 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005), and decided the issue consistent with this Court's prior decisions in Erie County and Washington County. In Franklin County, this Court affirmed the Board's dismissal of a deputy sheriff's association's petition to represent a bargaining unit of only deputy sheriffs because they did not qualify as "guards" under Section 604(3) of PERA. There, as in Washington County, the employer-County opposed the association's petition for representation, and it was uncontested that the deputy sheriffs were never used as guards during a strike by County employees. However, the sheriff decreed in a manual that in the event of any strike, whether public or private, the deputy sheriffs were responsible for the safety of persons and property on either side of the strike. The Court, in affirming the Board, held that the strike duties, which were detailed in the manual, were more in the nature of general law enforcement duties performed by neutral peace officers than those of security guards protecting their employer's property against fellow county employees at the request of county commissioners. Therefore, having determined that the deputies have never performed guard duty for the County during a strike by County employees, and that the strike duties listed in the manual did not amount to guard duties per Section 604(3) of PERA, the Court concluded that the Board did not err in denying the association's petition. Franklin County, 885 A.2d at 619. The Court went on to note that, even if the strike duties contained in the manual would be sufficient to qualify the deputies as guards, the manual, by itself, is insufficient to establish a separate bargaining unit. The Court noted that County Commissioners are the exclusive managerial representative for purposes of collective bargaining, and that absent approval by the County Commissioners, the sheriff's office was not authorized to establish a separate bargaining unit for the deputies based solely on the sheriff's own policy regarding possible duties of the deputies in the event of a strike by County employees. Id. at 620.