Arbitrator and NAA member, James M. Darby, comments on a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, dealing with the tension between the Pennsylvania’s Act 111 and home rule charters.

On May 22, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously held that an amendment to the City of Pittsburgh’s Home Rule Charter imposing a residency requirement on its police officers cannot preempt Pennsylvania’s Act 111, which is the Commonwealth’s interest arbitration law for police officers and fire fighters.  By doing so, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s ruling that the amendment of the Home Rule Charter gave the City broad powers to impose the residency requirement. City of Pittsburgh v. Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1.

As background, in 2012 the Pennsylvania legislature rescinded a residency requirement set forth in the Policeman’s Civil Service Act and replaced it with a law  providing that the second class cities such as Pittsburgh “may require” residency as a condition of employment. Thereafter, the City and the Fraternal Order of Police (“FOP”) unsuccessfully bargained over the residency issue, and the matter was submitted to arbitration pursuant to Act 111.  In the meantime, in a November 2013 referendum pursuant to the Pittsburgh’s Home Rule Charter, voters decided to amend the Charter to require residency as a condition of employment.  In March 2014, the Act 111 arbitration panel concluded that police officers must live within a 25 mile radius of the City.

The City appealed the Act 111 arbitration award.  The trial court concluded that the arbitration panel had the authority to establish the 25-mile radius requirement, but the Commonwealth Court reversed.  That Court held that the City’s Home Rule Charter amendment effectively transformed the issue of residency into a non-bargainable management prerogative for the City.

The Supreme Court disagreed.  The justices concluded that the amendment to the Home Rule Charter inappropriately removed residency as a subject of collective bargaining.  Specifically, it found that the language of Section 2962(e) of the Home Rule Charter expressly exempts from its coverage “statutes that are uniform and applicable in every part of this commonwealth….”  The Court held that Act 111 was such a “uniform” statute and that the statutory authority given to the City to take action with respect to a bargainable subject such as residency “does not give the municipality the ability to place those subjects out of the reach of an interest arbitration panel.”  It emphasized that residency requirements are mandatory subjects of bargaining pursuant to Act 111, and as such, Act 111 preempts the Home Rule Charter amendments unilaterally imposing a residency requirement on police officers.  The Supreme Court reinstated the Act 111 arbitration panel’s “25-mile radius” residency requirement.