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MARY ROBINSON ET AL. v. ABINGTON EDUCATION ASSOCIATION AND MIKE MECKLOWITZ ET AL. AND BOARD DIRECTORS ABINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT (10/31/80)

decided: October 31, 1980.

MARY ROBINSON ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
ABINGTON EDUCATION ASSOCIATION AND MIKE MECKLOWITZ ET AL. AND BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE ABINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT



No. 338 January Term, 1978, Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court, No. 1471 C.D. 1976, vacating Decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, No. 73-08050

COUNSEL

Manuel Grife, Philadelphia, for appellants.

Richard W. Rogers, Norristown, Thomas W. Scott, Harrisburg, for appellee Abington Ed. Assn. et al.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Roberts, J., files an Opinion in Support of Affirmance, joined by O'Brien, C. J., and Flaherty, J. Larsen, J., would affirm the decree of A. Benjamin Scirica, J., of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Kauffman, J., files an Opinion in Support of Reversal joined by Nix, J. Eagen, C. J., did not participate in the decision of this case.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 492 Pa. Page 221]

ORDER

The Court being equally divided, the order of the Commonwealth Court is affirmed. Each party to pay own costs.

ROBERTS, Justice, in support of affirmance.

This is an appeal from the order of the Commonwealth Court vacating a decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. We would affirm.*fn1

Appellants, Special Education teachers and Home and School Visitors, are employees of the Abington School District and also members of appellee Abington Education Association, the collective bargaining representative for

[ 492 Pa. Page 222]

    teachers employed by the school district. In July 1973 appellants filed a complaint in equity to enjoin the Association and appellee Board of Directors of Abington School District from effectuating the 1973-1974 proposed collective bargaining agreement unless salary differentials afforded appellants in the collective bargaining agreements of the two previous contract years were included.*fn2 Appellants subsequently amended their complaint to include allegations of not only the illegality of the collective bargaining agreement, but also the union's failure to represent their interests fairly in the collective bargaining process and misrepresentation by the union in securing membership approval of the contract.*fn3 Appellants also withdrew their petition for a preliminary injunction based on the parties' stipulation that if the exclusion of the salary differential was finally determined to be unlawful, the differential would be paid to appellants retroactive to the effective date of the contract.

The court of common pleas dismissed appellees' preliminary objections challenging the jurisdiction of the trial court. After trial on the merits, the court ordered reformation of the collective bargaining agreement to include a five-percent differential salary increment for the Special Education teachers and a three-percent differential increment for the Home and School Visitors. The Commonwealth Court vacated the trial court's order, holding that the trial court lacked equity jurisdiction since the Public School Code and the Public Employe Relations Act provided an adequate remedy at law. While we agree with the Commonwealth Court's order vacating reformation of the collective bargaining agreement, we base our decision on different grounds. We conclude that the trial court properly exercised

[ 492 Pa. Page 223]

    its equity jurisdiction to determine the substantive validity of the collective bargaining agreement, but that it erred in holding the agreement invalid under state law.

I

It is axiomatic that in order for a court to grant equitable relief to redress the violation of a legal right, the remedy available at law must be inadequate. Dobbs, Remedies § 2.5 (1973). Here the relief sought by appellants is reformation of a collective bargaining agreement to provide a salary increase reflecting differentials allegedly mandated by state law. Appellants claim that the collective bargaining agreement is illegal because the deletion of salary differentials (1) constitutes a demotion in violation of 24 P.S. § 11-1151, and (2) violates the minimum salary schedule mandated by 24 P.S. §§ 11-1142 and 11-1152. The jurisdictional question, therefore, is whether the administrative procedures provided by the Public School Code and the Public Employe Relations Act are adequate to adjudicate the legality of the collective bargaining agreement. We conclude that they are not.

The statutory procedure provided by the Public School Code for contesting demotions does not apply because appellants' claim of an unlawful demotion is unfounded. Demotion requires either a reduction in salary amount or a change in type of position. 24 P.S. § 11-1151;*fn4 Norwin School District v. Chlodney, 37 Pa. Commw. 284, 286, 390 A.2d 328, 330 (1978). Here, the Special Education teachers and the Home and School Visitors have simply failed to secure an anticipated salary increase.

[ 492 Pa. Page 224]

Like the Public School Code, the Public Employe Relations Act also does not provide an adequate remedy at law. In Parents Union for Public Schools in Philadelphia v. Board of Education of the School District of Philadelphia, 480 Pa. 194, 389 A.2d 577 (1978), we held that a claim that a collective bargaining agreement contains illegal provisions need not be resolved in the first instance by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) but can properly be adjudicated by a court of common pleas. Our decision was based on the rationale that

"[appellants] are not asking for an investigation of alleged unfair bargaining tactics. Indeed, nothing in the record demonstrates that appellees refused to bargain fairly and in good faith. The Board's expertise in analyzing bargaining tactics and settling labor disputes therefore cannot contribute to resolution of the substantive validity of appellees' agreement. Nothing in Act 195 indicates that the Legislature wished the Board, in the first instance, to pass upon this kind of complaint."

Id., 480 Pa. at 198, 389 A.2d at 579. Although appellants' complaint alleged not only the illegality of the agreement but also unfair labor practices, the inclusion of these additional claims which are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the PLRB,*fn5 does not operate to divest the court of jurisdiction to determine the substantive validity of the agreement. Assuming that the teachers filed a complaint with the PLRB and obtained a Board order to bargain in good faith, the issue of minimum salaries required by the Public School Code would still remain. As the School Board has taken the position of a disinterested stakeholder, willing to pay whatever increase is required by law, see note 2 supra, the question under the Code must inevitably be answered by the courts.

[ 492 Pa. Page 225]

II

Resolution of the legality of a collective bargaining agreement which excludes salary differentials provided in past contracts is governed by this Court's recent unanimous decision in Wildrick v. Board of Directors of Sayre Area School District, 491 Pa. 25, 417 A.2d 617 (1980).

In Wildrick this Court held that the Public School Code, 24 P.S. § 11-1142, prescribes the minimum salary amount that school districts throughout the Commonwealth must pay their professional employees. Only those employees who had been paid an amount less than the mandatory minimum statewide salary were granted relief. We stated:

"Nothing contained in the Code, either as originally enacted or as amended, in any respect prescribes any particular means by which greater salaries must be determined. The sole limitation the Legislature has imposed is the requirement that a school district comply with the applicable statewide minimum salary schedule . . . . Thus appellants' contention that appellee improperly failed to apply the Code's revised minimum salary formulas in calculating the district's higher local salaries must be rejected."

Id., 491 Pa. at 31, 417 A.2d at 619-20.

As the Public School Code does not provide a formula to be used in calculating local salary schedules, but prescribes only a minimum salary amount, whether there is to be a differential among teachers' salaries which exceed the state required minimum is a contractual matter to be resolved through collective bargaining. Section 11-1152 of the Code specifically states:

"§ 11-1152. Compensation in excess of schedule; temporary or emergency increases

The foregoing schedules prescribe a minimum salary in each instance, and where an increment is prescribed, it is also a minimum. It is within the power of the boards of school directors to increase for any person or group of persons, included in any schedule, the initial salary or the amount of an increment or the number of increments.

[ 492 Pa. Page 226]

Nothing contained in this act shall be construed to interfere with or discontinue any salary schedule rights, tenure rights, or other privileges or terms of employment now or heretofore in force in any school district, provided such shall meet the requirements of this act, nor to prevent the adoption of any salary schedule in conformity with the provisions of this act."

If teachers are dissatisfied with salary provisions in a collective bargaining agreement which meet the statutory minimum requirements, their remedy, if any, is through the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board on an unfair labor practice charge. Public Employe Relations Act (PERA), Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 563, No. 195, art. 1 et seq., 43 P.S. § 1101.101 et seq. Of course, in this case this remedy has been waived by appellants' express disavowal on appeal that any unfair labor practice was committed.

The order of the Commonwealth Court vacating reformation of the collective bargaining agreement should be affirmed.

KAUFFMAN, Justice, in support of reversal.

On July 3, 1973, appellants, state certified Special Education Teachers and Home and School Visitors*fn1 of the Abington School District, filed a complaint in equity against the Abington Education Association and members of its negotiating committee ("Association")*fn2 and the Board of School Directors of Abington School District ("School Board"), seeking to reform ...


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