PITTSBURGH — The state Supreme Court on May 22 ruled that police officers in Pittsburgh must only live within 25 air miles of downtown instead of within city limits, upholding a 2014 decision by an arbitrator.

The Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (FOP) had appealed an order by a lower court that upheld residency requirements, the last legal battle in a fight that has been going on for several years between the city and its police officers.

In a collective bargaining agreement that ran from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2014, it was noted that if “during the term of this agreement ... the Pennsylvania State Legislature enacts legislation relating to ... residency requirements for police officers in cities of the second class, the parties may reopen the contract to negotiate and/or arbitrate under these limited conditions. The panel shall retain jurisdiction to address such issues if agreement cannot be reached by the parties.”

The Pennsylvania General Assembly repealed the residency mandate on Oct. 24, 2012, which caused the parties to bargain the residency issue. They couldn’t reach agreement, and an arbitration panel was reconvened.

In the meantime, voters in Pittsburgh approved a home rule charter amendment on Nov. 5, 2013.

On March 14, 2014, the arbitration panel issued a supplemental interest arbitration award, which provided that the city-only residency requirement would immediately discontinue and be replaced with the following provision: “Officers shall be required to reside within a 25 air-mile radius from the City-County Building.”

The city filed a petition for review in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, seeking to vacate the award and claiming the panel acted without jurisdiction and exceeded its authority.

The trial court noted the panel has the authority to direct a municipality to do anything that it is lawfully empowered to do. It also rejected the city’s argument that the interest arbitration award was unconstitutional because it required the city to act in a manner contrary to the amended home rule charter.

The city filed an appeal and a divided en banc Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court’s decision.

Writing for the majority, Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter noted that the General Assembly, through the Home Rule Charter Law, gave home rule municipalities broad powers “to undertake any action they desired, and that such action should be upheld unless it was specifically denied by the Constitution, a statute or the home rule charter itself.” 

The Commonwealth Court had concluded that no statewide law prohibits the home rule charter from requiring the city’s employees to live within its borders.

In its decision, the state Supreme Court disagreed, finding a 1968 law supersedes Pittsburgh's home rule charter.  

In its appeal, the FOP had contended that the opinion of the Commonwealth Court failed to address the requirement of Section 2962(e) that uniform statutes of statewide application may not be modified.

Because the Commonwealth Court’s decision permits a home rule charter municipality to divest officers of the right to bargain over a condition of employment, contrary to Section 1 of Act 111, the FOP maintained that the home rule charter amendment violates Section 2962(e).

In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2012 change in state law made it permissible for the FOP to negotiate for an end to the residency requirement. Additionally, state law superseded the amendment to Pittsburgh's charter.

In writing the decision, Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy noted the court has clarified that residency is a mandatory subject of bargaining.

"Accordingly, the home rule charter provision requiring residency is at odds with an act of statewide application,” Mundy wrote. “The order of the trial court affirming the March 14, 2014, supplemental interest arbitration award directing that officers shall be required to reside within a twenty-five mile radius from the City-County Building is reinstated.”

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