Police Union Triumphs in Lawsuit over Pittsburgh Residency Requirement

By Jeffrey Rhodes Jun 21, 2017

Police officers for the City of Pittsburgh do not have to be residents of the city but need only live within a 25-mile radius of the city-county building, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled.

The Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (FOP), is the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the police officers of the City of Pittsburgh, according to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act. The FOP and the city were parties to a collective bargaining agreement that ran from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2014. Section 18(S) of the agreement stated that if the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted legislation related to residency requirements for police officers in cities like Pittsburgh, the parties could reopen the contract to negotiate and/or arbitrate under these limited conditions and the arbitration panel would retain jurisdiction to address residency issues if the parties could not reach an agreement.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What subjects are to be considered during collective bargaining?]

The city is subject to the Policeman's Civil Service Act, which, prior to Oct. 24, 2012, provided that residency could not be required as a condition of appointment but that residency would be required at the time of employment and for the duration of employment. The General Assembly repealed the residency mandate on Oct. 24, 2012, by the enactment of Act 195 of 2012. But Act 195 provides that a city like Pittsburgh "may require a police officer to become a bona fide resident as a condition of employment."

In light of Act 195, the parties met to bargain the residency issue. Because they were unable to reach an agreement, the arbitration panel was convened and held hearings on June 28, 2013, and Sept. 23, 2013. At the start of the first hearing, the city objected to the arbitrability of the residency issue.

On July 23, 2013, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution to place a referendum on the upcoming general election ballot asking if the city's Home Rule Charter should be amended to require all city employees and officials, including police and fire personnel, to maintain their domicile within the city. Voters approved the Home Rule Charter Amendment on Nov. 5, 2013.

On March 14, 2014, the arbitration panel issued an arbitration award that immediately ended the city-only residency requirement and replaced it with the following provision: "Officers shall be required to reside within a 25 air-mile radius from the city-county building."

The city filed a timely petition for review in the Allegheny County Court of Common Appeals seeking to vacate the arbitration award because the panel ruled without justification and exceeded its authority under the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act and the Police and Firemen Collective-Bargaining Act. Judge Robert J. Colville of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas ruled that residency is a term and condition of employment for police officers and is a matter within the jurisdiction and authority of the arbitration panel under the Police and Firemen Collective-Bargaining Act. Because Act 195 placed residency within the city's control, an arbitration award could modify the residency requirement. The trial court also rejected the city's argument that the arbitration award was unconstitutional because it required the city to act in a manner contrary to its amended Home Rule Charter.

The city appealed, and the divided Commonwealth Court reversed. The majority ruled that the General Assembly, through the Home Rule Charter Law, gave home rule municipalities broad powers to undertake any action they desired and that such action should be applied unless it was specifically denied by a constitution, a statute or the Home Rule Charter itself. Observing that a home rule charter is the equivalent of a constitution, the court ruled that provisions of a home rule charter have the force and status of an enactment of the Legislature. The court concluded that no statewide law prohibited the Home Rule Charter from requiring the city's employees to live within its borders. City officials lost the ability to bargain away residency requirements due to the Home Rule Charter Amendment. Accordingly, the arbitration award would require the city to commit an illegal act.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, overturned the appeals court and ruled that the city's legislative authority is limited by the Home Rule Charter Law, which states that a city cannot override a state law or constitutional provision. Because the Police and Firemen Collective-Bargaining Act placed residency requirements within the subjects of collective bargaining between a city and police union, the city's residency requirement could not trump that of an arbitration panel acting according to the parties' collective bargaining agreement.

City of Pittsburgh v. Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, Pa. S. Ct., No. 18 WAP 2016 (May 22, 2017).

Professional Pointer: Sometimes an employer cannot implement an otherwise valid decision on a subject due to limitations imposed by collective bargaining laws. While the City of Pittsburgh lawfully sought to require its police officers to be residents, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the topic was subject to labor negotiations under state labor law. Thus, the city's voter referendum was invalid for imposing a requirement contrary to the union's bargaining rights.

Jeffrey Rhodes is an attorney with Doumar Martin in Arlington, Va.


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