Unilateral Policy Changes Rescinded Due To Anti-Union Animus

In Pennsylvania, the Palmyra Borough Police Officers Association filed an unfair labor practice complaint alleging Palmyra Borough was motivated by anti-union animus in changing several terms and conditions of employment.

In 2013, the Association and the Borough were engaged in contentious negotiations for a new contract. The Borough eventually declared impasse and sought arbitration. Beginning on day one of the arbitration hearing and continuing through day three, the Police Chief issued four memos establishing new policies.

Three of the Chief’s memos created new reporting and duty log requirements, requiring officers to log all meal and restroom break times and locations and to provide the reasons for and the duration of being in the station during shifts, and setting new time limits for certain duties. The fourth memo required an increase in traffic citations and indicated “administrative steps” would be taken for non-compliance. “Administrative steps” was understood to mean discipline but was not defined in any of the memos, Borough policy, or in the contract.

The Chief testified that policy changes were the result of complaints from the mayor. The Association asserted that the “alleged” complaints were merely a pretext to cover anti-union animus.

The Board considered three elements to determine whether the Borough’s changes amounted to anti-union animus: Whether the Association was engaged in a protected activity, whether the Borough had knowledge of the activity, and whether the Borough’s action was motivated by anti-union animus.

Because the Association and the Borough were negotiating a contract and arbitrating the impasse, the first two elements were clearly met. With regard to the motivation question, the Board focused, in part, on the timing of the memos: “The Board has long held that the timing of an adverse action against an employee engaged in a protected activity is a legitimate factor to be considered in determining anti-union animus.”

The Board noted that the Chief issued the four memos in “rapid succession” at the start of the arbitration. The Board also found there was no credible evidence supporting the Chief’s explanation of the need for the new policies.

Importantly, the mayor did not testify and no other witnesses or evidence corroborated the Chief’s testimony. In addition, the Chief had never before inquired of officers about the time they spent in the station and no one had ever been required to report restroom break locations and duration.

The Board concluded that “timing and the failure to provide an adequate explanation together are sufficient to support an inference of anti-union animus.” The Board held that the memos were issued because the Association engaged in the protected activities of bargaining and arbitration.

The Association also argued that the Borough was required to bargain over the changed working conditions before implementing them. The Board did not address the negotiability of the changes, finding instead that the Association had waived the right to negotiate over the changes because it failed to make a timely demand to bargain.

However, because the Board determined that the policy changes were motivated by anti-union animus, the Board ordered the Borough to rescind the policies.

Palmyra Borough Police Officers Association v. Palmyra Borough, PA LRB No. PF-C-13-65-E (2014).