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INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION FIRE FIGHTERS v. CITY SCRANTON (08/02/82)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: August 2, 1982.

INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE FIGHTERS, LOCAL 669, APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF SCRANTON, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County in case of City of Scranton v. Local Union No. 669 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO, No. 80 Civil 1981.

COUNSEL

Thomas Jennings, of Counsel: Sagot & Jennings, for appellant.

Edmund J. Scacchitti, City Solicitor, with him John J. Brazil, Assistant City Solicitor, for appellee.

Judges Rogers, Blatt and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.

Author: Craig

[ 68 Pa. Commw. Page 106]

Local Union No. 669 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO, appeals a Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas order, which vacated a portion of a labor arbitrator's award, involving an interpretation of a provision in the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the City of Scranton.*fn1 The court ruled that the arbitrator improperly ordered the city to maintain a minimum complement of 215 regularly appointed fire fighters.

The disputed*fn2 provision of the agreement is Article XVIII, Section 1, which provides in relevant part:

The City agrees with the Union that there shall be no arbitrary or capricious changes in job classifications, the transfers of personnel or reduction in force, or the creation of new job classifications. . . .

The union asserted before the arbitrator that the city had violated this provision by reducing the

[ 68 Pa. Commw. Page 107]

    number of fire fighters to under 215 persons, the work force level at the time the agreement became effective. The arbitrator agreed, and directed the city, "[t]o maintain a minimum level of bargaining unit members at 215 for a two-year period first commencing with the date on which the number of fire fighters is in fact returned to 215."

In its appeal to the common pleas court, the city asserted that the arbitrator should be reversed for failing to interpret the disputed provision as requiring a showing that the city's reduction in the work force was arbitrary and capricious.*fn3

Although the common pleas court noted that the matter of maintaining a minimum work force was contained within the terms of the agreement, it relied upon our decision in Scholastic Technical Service Employees v. Pennsylvania State University, 37 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 622, 391 A.2d 1097 (1978),*fn4 and

[ 68 Pa. Commw. Page 108]

    concluded that the arbitrator's interpretation was unreasonable, stating:

We do not believe that the arbitrator's interpretation as to the size of the bargaining unit is reasonable in view of the language of the relevant provision and the evidence presented to him. He could conclude from the "essence" of the agreement that the parties agreed to maintain a force of 215 in the bargaining unit, but he cannot ignore the clear language of the parties that an arbitrary and capricious reduction in force is required before that agreement is violated. There was no evidence that such was the case here. Without such evidence we cannot correct the award. Accordingly, that portion of the award must be set aside.

We must disagree.

Our decision in Scholastic Technical, which was based on our Supreme Court's decision in Community College of Beaver County v. Society of Faculty, 473 Pa. 576, 375 A.2d 1267 (1977), must be viewed within the narrow limitations of judicial review expressed by our Supreme Court in Leechburg Area School District v. Dale, 492 Pa. 515, 424 A.2d 1309 (1981).

Under Leechburg, judicial review of an arbitrator's decision is limited by the "essence test," requiring "a determination as to whether the terms of the agreement

[ 68 Pa. Commw. Page 109]

    encompassed the subject matter of the dispute." Id. at 521, 424 A.2d at 1312. A court's inquiry ends "once it is determined that the issue properly defined is within the terms of the agreement." Id. at 521, 424 A.2d at 1313.

Given the key point that maintenance of minimum work force is within the term of Article XVIII, Section 1 of the agreement, judicial exegesis of the modifiers in that section is barred. Although the common pleas court understandably concluded that the language of this section lends itself to the alternative interpretation, our Supreme Court, in Leechburg, has made clear that it looks unfavorably upon interference by the judiciary, even where the court could reasonably adopt a different interpretation.*fn5 This limited standard of review reflects the desire of our Supreme Court to treat an arbitrator as a "court of last resort,"*fn6 and a recognition that, in construing particular language, an arbitrator, as here, may rely on additional evidence, derived from the history of the bargaining.*fn7

[ 68 Pa. Commw. Page 110]

Accordingly, that portion of the decision of the court of common pleas concerning the minimum work force is hereby reversed.

Order

Now, August 2, 1982, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County dated April 9, 1981, vacating that portion of the award of the arbitrator that directed the City of Scranton to maintain a minimum number of 215 fire fighters, is reversed, and the arbitrator's award is hereby reinstated.

Disposition

Portion of order vacating award reversed. Award reinstated.


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