Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Venango County Board of Assistance) v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board

A governmental director imposed a ban on smoking by employees at their workstations.  The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) concluded that this unilateral change in working conditions during the term of a union contract constituted a refusal to bargain collectively in good faith and was therefore was in violation of the Public Employees Relations Act (PERA), 43 P.S. sec. 1101.1201(a)(5).  The Commonwealth made three arguments on appeal.  First, that whether management permits employee smoking at work stations is a matter of “inherent managerial policy” and, therefore, exempt from the scope of mandatory bargaining.  Second, that since the union had the alternate remedy of grievance arbitration, PLRB does not have jurisdiction over the dispute.  Third, a provision of the collective bargaining agreement has the effect of empowering the employer to make unilateral changes in working conditions, such as the disputed ban on smoking.  The court, rejecting those arguments, ruled that whether employees may smoke at their work stations is “at the center of those subjects properly described as ‘conditions of employment’” and, thus, was within the PERA’s scope of mandatory bargaining.

459 A.2d 452, 74 Pa. Commw. 1, 1983 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 1582.