A county was not required to collectively bargain with its employees’ union before a local workforce investment board could seek competitive bids for the provision of services previously provided by county employees, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 87 v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, __ A.3d __ (No. 11 MAP 2014, filed March 25, 2015).
The Luzerne/Schuylkill Workforce Investment Board (Local Board) is part of a statewide system established pursuant to the federal Workplace Investment Act (WIA) and its state counterpart, the Workforce Development Act (WDA). The Local Board oversees federally-funded adult and dislocated worker services and youth programs under Title I of WIA, and also acts as a conduit for employment and training assistance programs offered by the Department of Public Welfare (“EARN” services). In 2010, the Local Board contracted with private entities to provide Title I and EARN services – work that was previously done by Luzerne County employees represented by AFSCME (Union). The Union filed a charge of unfair labor practices against the County, arguing that the Local Board was the County’s agent. The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) rejected the Union’s position and held that the County did not violate the Public Employe Relations Act. An en banc panel of the Commonwealth Court affirmed, concluding that substantial evidence supported the PLRB’s finding that the County lacked control over the Local Board’s decision to bid out the Title I and EARN services.
The Supreme Court allowed the Union’s appeal and affirmed. Writing for the unanimous Court, Chief Justice Saylor first held that, as a factual matter, substantial evidence of record supported the PLRB’s central finding that the Local Board, not the County, made the decision to award Title I and EARN services work to the private entities. The Court then queried whether the County could have directed the Local Board to refrain from contracting with private entities so bargaining with the Union could occur. Based upon a close review of the WIA and WDA, the Court concluded that local boards direct disbursement of grant monies for Title I services free of county control. Whether the County committed an unfair labor practice with respect to the EARN services could not be answered on the existing record. Noting that the complainant before the PLRB bears the burden of proof, the Court noted that the Union did not suggest any basis to believe it had carried its burden in that regard.