Public Employers Still Cannot Unilaterally Impose Restrictions on Union Employees' Tobacco Use


In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania evaluated whether a public employer's ban on employee tobacco use in the workplace affected a "working condition" that was subject to the employer's statutory duty to bargain with the union representing its employees. In Borough of Ellwood City v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd. (pdf), the Court held that, under the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act, the municipal employer's ban on the use of tobacco products in the workplace was a mandatory subject of bargaining.

The Borough of Ellwood passed an ordinance in 2006, which banned tobacco use on or in Borough-owned buildings, vehicles and equipment – a ban that applied to the Borough's unionized police officers. The Borough unilaterally implemented the ban without bargaining with the union. The union subsequently filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Borough with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, alleging that the Borough failed to bargain over a mandatory subject of bargaining. On appeal, the Court found for the Union, holding that tobacco use restrictions constitute a mandatory subject of bargaining – not an "inherent managerial prerogative." Thus, the Borough was obligated to bargain with the union over the tobacco restrictions.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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