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Commonwealth Court rules against Berks County Prison

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

A Berks County Prison supervisor’s response to a schedule change request has morphed into an unfair labor practices charge after a Com­­mon­­wealth Court ruled against the employer in a split decision.

The case involved the prison’s collective bargaining agreement with the Pennsylvania Social Services Union, which allows social workers to request a four-day, 10-hour-a-day work schedule under a trial program. The prison had the right to terminate the trial with 30 days’ notice.

Following a leave of absence, one social worker requested the four-day schedule with Mondays off. Her supervisor told the union’s steward that unless she accepted Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday as her day off, the prison would end the four-day workweek trial. The social worker opted to keep her five-day schedule rather than jeopardize her co-workers’ four-day arrangement.

The union, however, filed an unfair labor practice charge against the prison, arguing the supervisor threatened the entire trial just to deny one request.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board sided with the union and the prison appealed to Commonwealth Court.

In a split decision, the court concluded the supervisor’s statement was a threat because the employer could not make a compelling argument for needing the social worker to work on Mondays. The prison had no difficulties on Mondays while the social worker was on leave. The court concluded the prison’s point was solely to threaten to end the trial.

Note: Generally speaking, comments concerning any collective bargaining agreement related employer action should come from executives, not line supervisors.

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