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PA Supreme Court Decision Rejects Residency Requirements for Police Officers

July 7th, 2017

By John Bielski

PA Supreme Court Decision Rejects Residency Requirements for Police OfficersOn May 22, 2017, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in City of Pittsburgh v. Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge No.1 held that the city did not have the legal authority to amend its home rule charter such that it would eliminate a mandatory subject of bargaining under the Police and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act, known as Act 111. Specifically, the Supreme Court found that an interest arbitration panel had the legal authority to issue an award under Act 111 that included a provision allowing police officers to live outside the city.

FOP Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (FOP) is the exclusive collective bargaining agent for the police officers of the city. The FOP and the city are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that ran from Jan. 1, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2014. The agreement included a provision that, in the event the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted legislation regarding residency requirements for cities of the second class, the parties could negotiate or arbitrate the issue of residency. In Pennsylvania, which categorizes municipalities based on population, only Pittsburgh is a city of the second class.

In 2012, the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended the Policemen’s Civil Service Act (for cities of the second class). The act originally barred police officers employed by a city of the second class from living outside the city. However, this provision was repealed and amended so that “a city of the second class may require a police officer to become a bona fide resident as a condition of employment.”

Thereafter, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution to place a referendum before the voters asking whether the city’s home rule charter should be amended to require all city employees and officials, including police and fire personnel, to maintain their residence within the city. In November 2013, voters approved the measure.

Due to the change to the Policemen’s Civil Service Act, the parties held an interest arbitration proceeding to decide the issue of residency. The arbitrator issued an award that allowed the police officers to live up to twenty-five (25) miles outside the city, against the wishes of the city. The city appealed the award to the Court of Common Pleas, arguing that the residency provision was barred due to the amendment to the home rule charter. The court denied the city’s petition. The city then appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which reversed the lower court. The FOP asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review that decision, which granted the request.

The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court. The Supreme Court found that Act 111 was a statute of general applicability which mandated certain subjects to be mandatory subjects of bargaining, including residency. In fact, Act 111 expressly noted that it applied to every municipality including those with a home rule charter. Furthermore, the Home Rule Charter Law clearly recognized that a home rule charter may not supersede a statute of general applicability, such as Act 111. Since the Home Rule Charter Law explicitly recognized the limitations of a home rule charter, the Court found that the residency provision was expressly preempted. Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the FOP and struck down the residency provision of the city’s home rule charter.

The result of the decision likely will mean that no home rule municipality may seek to limit mandatory subjects of bargaining allowed under Pennsylvania’s labor statutes.

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