East Penn Press

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Thursday, October 12, 2017 by APRIL PETERSON apeterson@tnonline.com in Local News

Borough of Emmaus petition for appeal denied

The Borough of Emmaus firefighters are employees of the borough.

In a decision dated Sept. 26, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Middle District denied an appeal brought by the Borough of Emmaus, effectively supporting a final order issued by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board dated Sept. 16, 2014.

In a final order issued by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board the decision reads as follows:

“In essence, the Borough has already hired the fire fighters, and despite any alleged intent on behalf of the Borough that the fire fighters are not public employees, the Borough has already made them public employees by paying them hourly wages and possessing and exercising significant control over their terms and conditions of employment.”

The Supreme Court decision is the latest development in a conflict reaching back to a June 3, 2014, “order certifying the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association as the exclusive representative of all full-time and regular part-time firefighters of the (Emmaus) Fire Department” under Act 111, according to the majority opinion written by Judge Patricia A. McCullough.

In the opinion, McCullough detailed the circumstances of the conflict.

In October 2013, the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association petitioned to represent a unit of full-time and part-time Emmaus firefighters. The Borough maintained the firefighters were considered “volunteers.”

However, an ordinance adopted in 1999 established a system by which firefighters were paid hourly for their work, requiring them to punch in and out to record hours worked. Firefighters were required to remain at the station during their scheduled shifts and to find a replacement if unable to work an assigned shift. The ordinance also designated positions of fire chief, assistant fire chief, deputy fire chief, captain, lieutenant and engineer, according to the majority opinion.

Moreover, the ordinance established firefighters “shall be under the control of the Fire Chief” who in turn must answer to the borough manager and borough council, according to the final order.

In late June of 2014 the borough filed exceptions to the June 3, 2014 decision. The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board agreed with the June 3, 2014, decision, prompting an appeal by the borough.

The final order dismissed the exceptions filed by the borough, including the borough’s argument the firefighters were considered volunteers.

“The crux of the matter here is that because fire fighters were appointed by the Borough to provide services for an hourly wage, the Borough hired them as employees under the PLRA and Act 111,” was noted in the final order issued Sept. 16, 2014.

Act 111 grants collecting bargaining rights to police officers and firefighters, according to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board 2014 annual report.

The Press was unable to reach Borough Manager Shane Pepe for a comment on this decision before going to print.