Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Thursday reversed a 2014 arbitration panel’s ruling permitting Pittsburgh police officers to live outside city limits.
The court ruled that Pittsburgh can require officers to reside in the city under a provision in its Home Rule Charter. The city for more than a century has had a residency requirement.
“We’re going to definitely appeal it to the (state) Supreme Court,” said Howard McQuillan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1.
The city’s police union had argued for years that officers should be permitted to move outside city boundaries and took its case to arbitration after state legislators in 2012 enacted a law permitting police officers to negotiate residency through collective bargaining.
The new law permitted — but did not require — cities to lift residency requirements.
“The city respects the collective bargaining process,” Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement about the ruling. “But residency and other workplace issues should be subject to good-faith negotiations and not made through back-door deals in Harrisburg. The people of Pittsburgh must have a seat at that table.”
In March 2014, arbitrators issued a ruling permitting officers to live within 25 air miles of Downtown. Pittsburgh voters in November 2014 overwhelmingly approved the residency requirement and made it a part of the Home Rule Charter.
Peduto’s office appealed to Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, which affirmed the arbitration ruling. County Judge Robert J. Colville postponed enactment of the arbitrator’s ruling, however, pending an anticipated appeal.
The city did appeal to Commonwealth Court, arguing that arbitrators exceeded their authority in lifting the requirement.
Commonwealth Court agreed with the city in a majority opinion written by Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter. She argued that voters resolved the issue by including a residency requirement in the Home Rule Charter.
“This took away the ability of the city’s officials to voluntarily bargain away the residency requirement,” the judge wrote. “Thus, the arbitrators’ award in this case would require the city to commit an illegal act by violating its Home Rule Charter.”
Judges Robert Simpson, P. Kevin Brobson and Anne E. Covey dissented, arguing that state law permitting police to negotiate residency superseded the charter.
“When (state law) applies, neither a home rule charter nor an enactment by a home rule municipality may change the ability to bargain about residency,” Simpson wrote.
He added that it was “troublesome” that Pittsburgh added the charter stipulation after the arbitrator’s ruling “to gain an advantage in ongoing collective bargaining.”