Western Pennsylvania Hospital v. Lichliter

Decision Date06 January 1941
Docket Number18
Citation17 A.2d 206,340 Pa. 382
PartiesWestern Pennsylvania Hospital et al. v. Lichliter et al., Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Argued November 26, 1940.

Appeal, No. 18, May T., 1941, from decree of C.P. Dauphin Co., Equity Docket No. 1533, 789 Com. Docket, 1940, in case of The Western Pennsylvania Hospital et al. v. Levi G Lichliter et al., Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board et al and the Hospital Workers Local Union No. 255 of the State, County and Municipal Workers of America, et al. Decree affirmed.

Bill in equity.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court below, by RICHARDS, P.J., specially presiding, as follows:

On July 1, 1940, this Court, without hearing, granted a preliminary injunction restraining the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board from proceeding in any way under the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act, against the plaintiff hospitals, and restraining Hospital Workers Local Union No. 255 of the State, County and Municipal Workers of America, affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organization, from asserting any rights against the plaintiff hospitals, under said Act and from presenting any charges, complaints or proceedings thereunder against the plaintiff hospitals. Thereafter, the Board filed an answer raising preliminary objections to the bill and the local union presented a petition under the Act of 1925, challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to issue said injunction. Argument on both was heard by the Court en banc and the matter is now before us for disposition.


The essential averments of the bill are as follows:

The plaintiff hospitals of Allegheny County are public charitable institutions, in part supported by State appropriations, engaged in rendering free medical and surgical services to the indigent sick, injured and disabled. The hospitals are non-profit corporations not engaged in industry, commerce, trade, business or production. In rendering such services the hospitals are performing a function of the government. The defendant union has attempted to unionize the employees of said hospitals and has made demands upon said hospitals. The latter refused to recognize the union, whereupon it filed a petition with the Labor Board alleging unfair labor practices under the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act. The services required of the plaintiff hospitals necessitate minute and efficient supervision which should not be disrupted by union activities, to the detriment and danger of patients. The hospitals are not employers, nor those sought to be unionized employees within the provision of the Labor Relations Act. That any attempt by the Labor Board to conduct an investigation, issue subpoenas or hold hearings would greatly interfere with the management and operations of the hospitals. The bill further contends that equitable relief may be granted because the Board has no power to proceed against the plaintiffs, that a multiplicity of actions will be avoided and the improper expenditure of public funds prevented. There are many other averments but these we deem the most important. Others may be mentioned in the course of this opinion.


The answer raising preliminary objections states that the "injunction awarded by the court is illegal and void on its face, by reason of the Labor Anti-Injunction Act," and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act; that the plaintiffs have a full, complete and adequate remedy at law, and that the bill does not state a cause of action.


The petition of the defendant union, presented under the Act of 1925, P.L. 23, questions the jurisdiction of this Court to issue the injunction. It is alleged that jurisdiction of the matter covered by the bill of complaint has been exclusively vested by the Legislature in the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, that administrative remedies must be exhausted before judicial relief is sought, and that the bill states no cause of action.


As the matter now stands, the averments of the bill must be taken as true. These averments show that most, but not all, of the plaintiff hospitals receive State aid. They are also supported in part by charity. The property of the hospitals has a value in excess of $36,000,000. They employ and pay upwards of 5,697 persons, of which number 603 have the power to hire and fire. In addition there are some 1756 student nurses connected with the hospitals and many internes. Many graduate nurses privately employed are engaged in work in said hospitals. During the twenty-one months immediately preceding March 1, 1940, these hospitals engaged in 3,643,968 hospital or patient days of service of which 1,054,480 days of free service were rendered to the indigent. This represented service to 230,663 persons of which 78,137 received free attention because they were unable to pay. During the same period the hospitals, in addition to the above, handled more than 800,000 dispensary visits at a cost of about $700,000. During 1938, twenty-one of the plaintiff hospitals performed free service to the indigent and poor at a cost of $2,390,000, of which amount the State contributed $665,000. The difference was made up from charitable contributions. For the fiscal year ending May 31, 1939, excluding one hospital, there was an operating deficit for the plaintiff hospitals of $464,000, and of the twenty-five hospitals involved only six failed to show deficits.

The Bill states that the formation of a union among the hospital employes would result in demands of such a character as to jeopardize the financial ability of the hospitals to function and that efforts to enforce these demands by strikes or otherwise would seriously imperil the management of the hospitals and the lives, health and safety of the patients. The demands already made would entail an increased yearly outlay of over $2,000,000, and, it is contended, would, if granted, in effect transfer control of the hospitals from their officials to the union. The hospitals refused to execute the proposed agreement or to negotiate any agreement, whereupon the union invoked the jurisdiction of the Labor Board and charged unfair labor practices. The Board has either begun or is about to begin investigation of the charges which will entail expenditure of public funds for the purpose. It is contended that in making such investigation the Board is exceeding its legal authority, since the hospitals are agencies of the State and as such are not employers within the meaning of the Act.


June 2, 1937, P.L. 1198; 1939, P.L. 302.

We think it will simplify matters to decide at the outset whether or not the Labor Anti-Injunction Act applies to the present situation. If so, the Court was without authority to issue the preliminary injunction before hearing: Sec. 9.

Our first consideration is: Does a labor dispute exist? It is provided in Sec. 3(a) of the Act that:

"(a) A case shall be held to involve or grow out of a labor dispute when the case involves persons who are engaged in a single industry, trade, craft, or occupation. . . ."

A hospital is not an industry. Neither are the employes of a hospital engaged in a single trade, craft or occupation. Student nurses, internes, doctors, surgeons, clerks, stenographers, bookkeepers, elevator operators, ambulance drivers, laundresses, mechanics, technicians, char-women and others may be employed by a hospital. They may have a common employer but they have no single trade, craft or occupation. Giving the words "industry, trade, craft or occupation" their commonly accepted meaning, we feel that they do not include the operations of a hospital.

Even though the words of the statute be interpreted as broad enough to include the operations of a hospital, we do not think that the legislature intended such a result. The purpose of the Act is to preserve the status quo during labor disputes, to insure the right to bargain collectively, and to give to employees the right to choose representatives for this purpose. To show the scope of the Act, the Legislature attempted to define cases which "involve or grow out of a labor dispute." In doing so, it used the words "industry, trade, craft or occupation." It has not been the custom in the past to unionize hospitals. The effect of unionization and attendant efforts to enforce demands would involve results far more sweeping and drastic than mere property rights. The question of profits for the employer or wages for the employee are not alone involved. It is not merely a matter of suspending operations, ceasing work and stopping production, such as might be true in a steel mill or automobile factory. It is a question of protecting the health, safety and, in many cases, the very lives of those persons who need the service a hospital is organized to render. The results are quite different and more extensive than are involved in an ordinary labor dispute. We cannot conceive that the Legislature intended to include hospitals within the purview of the Act. Consequently, even though the words used might conceivably be broad enough to include a hospital, nevertheless, a hospital is not within the spirit of the Act, and not being within the spirit, the Act does not apply to it. That this is so, is shown by the much cited case of Holy Trinity Church v. United States, 143 U.S 457, 459, where it is said: "It is a familiar rule, that a thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit, nor within the intention of its makers. This has been often asserted, and the reports are full of cases illustrating its application. This is not the substitution of the will of the Judge for that of the legislator, for...

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