Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act

(Private Sector)

Who is covered by the PLRA?

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act (PLRA) covers private sector employers and their employes who are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Because federal law includes most businesses that affect interstate commerce, based upon a dollar volume of business criteria established by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the PLRBs private sector jurisdiction is limited to smaller businesses. For example, manufacturing businesses that received more than $500,000 in annual receipts from or shipments to other states generally fall within the jurisdiction of the NLRB; this also applies to retail firms and hotels, motels and residential apartment houses that gross more than $500,000 in annual business. The NLRB also exercises jurisdiction over private hospitals and nursing homes with a total annual volume of revenues of $250,000 for hospitals and $100,000 for nursing homes (state and local government owned hospitals fall under the Public Employe Relations Act), including all enterprises concerned with national defense, private universities and colleges that receive at least one million dollars in gross annual revenue and many other types of businesses and enterprises that exceed the jurisdictional benchmarks established for such businesses.
The PLRBs private sector jurisdiction includes only businesses and enterprises that fall below the NLRBs jurisdictional dollar volume of business criteria or businesses over which the NLRB declines to assert jurisdiction based on its findings that they do not sufficiently affect interstate commerce or are closely regulated by state government. For instance, since the NLRB has declined to exercise its jurisdiction over racetracks and real estate brokers, those operations fall under the jurisdiction of the PLRB.
The PLRA also excludes from its coverage individuals employed as agricultural laborers, domestic service-workers and individuals employed by their parents or spouses. The board has held, though, that workers engaged in "horticultural" activities, such as mushroom growing, are not agricultural laborers and thus fall under the purview of the PLRA.


Under the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act, private sector employes may organize in units represented by employe organizations of their own choosing for the purpose of bargaining collectively with their employes concerning wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. One of the board's major functions is to determine the appropriateness of these collective bargaining units based on guidelines established in the act and in relevant case law. The board also determines whether employes in an appropriate collective bargaining unit wish to be represented by a specific labor organization. This is principally accomplished by secret ballot elections which are held at the employes' worksite or, in some instances, by canvassing eligible voters via mail ballot.
Since, under the PLRA, employers may recognize employe representatives without an election, the board does not have to certify an employe organization before it may bargain. As a result, the board need only become involved in representation matters involving private sector employes when questions are raised regarding the appropriateness of a unit or the majority status of an employe organization.
Representation cases are initiated most often by filing a petition which must be supported by a showing of interest by 30 percent of the employes in the proposed unit.
Before an election is held, the board may schedule a hearing to investigate any issues which may exist concerning the petition. Frequently, if no major questions are raised concerning the propriety of the unit or other matters, the parties may eliminate the formal hearing by stipulating the time and place of the election, the eligibility list and various other matters.
When elections are held under the PLRA for private sector employes, employe organizations must receive a majority of the valid ballots cast in the election to be certified as the exclusive representative of a collective bargaining unit. If no choice receives a majority of the votes, a runoff election is held between the two choices that received the most votes.
Units may be certified without conducting elections if an employer does not question either the appropriateness of a unit or the majority status of a petitioning employe organization and joins with the employe organization to request that the board certify the proposed unit.
Representatives may be decertified pursuant to the filing of a decertification petition which also must be supported by 30 percent of the employes in the unit or, in the case of an employer filed petition, by a substantiated good faith doubt of the majority status of the representative. The certified or recognized representative will lose its bargaining status if it does not receive a majority of the valid votes cast in a decertification election or if it voluntarily decides to relinquish its representative status through the filing of a disclaimer of interest.
Parties also may petition the board for clarification of whether certain positions should be properly included in a unit. This procedure is available to determine managerial status or to allocate newly created positions to appropriate bargaining units. Unit clarification procedures also may be used to merge two or more existing units.
The board also may amend a previously issued certification to reflect a change in the name or affiliation of an employe representative.


The board enforces and protects the rights of employes to organize and to bargain collectively through investigation of charges of unfair practices and direction of remedies if such practices are found. Section 6 of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act outlines unfair practices prohibited for employers, employes or employe organizations.
The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from interfering, restraining or coercing employes in the exercise of their rights. Employers may not refuse to bargain, dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any employe organization, or discriminate against employes because of union activity. The enumerated employe or employe organization unfair practices restrict interference and unlawful restraints that could occur in bargaining relations with employers or in dealing with individual employes, except that refusal to bargain in good faith cannot be charged against a union in the private sector.
Parties may initiate board investigation of an alleged unfair practice by filing a charge on the board's Form PLRB-15, Charge of Unfair Labor Practices, which requests information on the specific subsection of the PLRA alleged to have been violated and on the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the charge.
The board's rules and regulations authorize the Secretary of the board to issue complaints in unfair practice charges when, upon review, it is determined that a sufficient cause of action is stated in the charge. After a complaint is issued, the case may be assigned directly to a hearing or to a conciliator for further investigation or discussions between the parties for the purpose of arriving at a settlement of the case short of a formal hearing. Should the settlement effort fail, or should the case contain issues and circumstances which appear to be not amenable to negotiated settlement, the case will proceed to a formal hearing.
At the hearing, a representative of the party filing the charge will prosecute the case before a board hearing examiner. The board does not provide legal counsel for individuals who have filed charges of unfair practices. The parties present testimony, examine and cross-examine witnesses and introduce evidence concerning the charge. A stenographic record is made of the hearing.
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