Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board Jurisdiction of a Dispute Between Public Employees and Their Collective Bargaining Representative

In Narcotics Agents Regional Committee, FOP Lodge 74 v. AFSCME, AFL-CIO, 780 A.2d 863 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001), the employee investigators had been represented exclusively by the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), but later elected a new union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), to represent them in collective bargaining negotiations. In an action filed directly with this Court, the FOP claimed that AFSCME engaged in discriminatory retaliation and breached its duty of fair representation to employees who supported the FOP by failing to process grievances. AFSCME answered the FOP's petition and filed a new matter that alleged this Court lacked jurisdiction over the FOP's claim because such an allegation constituted an unfair labor practice charge under Section 1201(b)(1) of PERA, 43 P.S. 1101.1201(b)(1), and therefore, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board's (PLRB) had exclusive jurisdiction over the controversy. This Court disagreed and held: The starting point in considering whether the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) has original jurisdiction of a dispute between public employees and their collective bargaining representative is to ascertain whether the remedy sought is redress of an unfair labor practice. If it is, then the PLRB is vested with exclusive original jurisdiction by section 1301 of the Act 195PERA, 43 P.S. 1101.1301. However, this rule does not divest a court of jurisdiction to entertain suits for breach of contract merely because the alleged breach may be an unfair labor practice. Here, the Petition arguably alleges that AFSCME's failure to process grievances properly was an attempt to restrain Employees from organizing, forming or joining the FOP. However, in Ziccardi..., our supreme court stated that a union's bad faith refusal to submit a grievance to arbitration does not fall under any of the categories of unfair labor practices enumerated in section 1201(b) of Act 195 PERA, 43 P.S. 1101.1201(b). The court explained that a public employee's remedy for a union's refusal to submit a grievance to arbitration is an action against the union for breach of its duty of fair representation. Because the Petition sets forth allegations which, if true, would constitute a breach of AFSCME's duty of fair representation, jurisdiction lies with this court, not the PLRB. Narcotics Agents, 780 A.2d at 867.