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GREATER JOHNSTOWN AREA VOCATIONAL-TECHNICAL SCHOOL v. GREATER JOHNSTOWN AREA VOCATIONAL-TECHNICAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (09/29/82)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: September 29, 1982.

GREATER JOHNSTOWN AREA VOCATIONAL-TECHNICAL SCHOOL, APPELLANT
v.
GREATER JOHNSTOWN AREA VOCATIONAL-TECHNICAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County in the case of Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical School v. Greater Johnstown Area Vo-Tech Education Association, No. 1980-5728.

COUNSEL

Marlin B. Stephens, for appellant.

William K. Eckel, for appellee.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Williams, Jr. and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish

[ 69 Pa. Commw. Page 209]

Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical School (School)*fn1 appeals from a Cambria County Common Pleas Court order affirming an arbitration award. We affirm.

[ 69 Pa. Commw. Page 210]

Due to a "projected" enrollment decrease,*fn2 the School curtailed and altered its curriculum, resulting in the suspensions of Earl Wadsworth, a tenured driver-education instructor with an alternate certification in physical education, and Kathleen Shedlock Patrick, a non-tenured English teacher (employees). The Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical Education Association (Association) filed grievances on the employees' behalf, alleging that the School violated the "Just Cause Provision"*fn3 of the collective bargaining agreement (agreement) between the School and the Association. The grievance procedure set forth in the agreement establishes a four-step process, culminating in binding arbitration. Although the first three steps of the grievance mechanism were pursued, the School refused to proceed to arbitration. This Court, in Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board v. Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical School, 48 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 604, 410 A.2d 1290 (1980), affirmed the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board order requiring the School to arbitrate the suspension issues.*fn4

[ 69 Pa. Commw. Page 211]

The arbitrator concluded, first, that since the School had failed to realign its staff to retain Wadsworth in accordance with his alternate certification and seniority, he was improperly suspended; and, second, that School had curtailed or altered its English program without securing prior approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction as required by law,*fn5 thus Patrick's suspension was likewise improper.

The arbitrator ordered the School to reinstate Wadsworth and to reimburse Patrick for all lost compensation and benefits resulting from her improper suspension. Common Pleas Court affirmed the award, and this appeal follows.

Initially we note that review of an arbitrator's decision is highly circumscribed and will not be overturned if it draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement. Leechburg Area School District v. Dale, 492 Pa. 515, 517, 424 A.2d 1309, 1312 (1981). The "essence test" has been defined succinctly by our Supreme Court:

[ 69 Pa. Commw. Page 212]

The essence test requires a determination as to whether the terms of the agreement encompass the subject matter of the dispute. Where it is determined that the subject matter of the dispute is encompassed within the terms of the agreement, the validity of the arbitrator's interpretation is not a matter of concern to the court. (Emphasis added.)

Id. at 520-21, 424 A.2d at 1312-13.

The collective bargaining agreement establishes a procedure to handle all grievances, a "grievance" being defined as " any alleged violation. . . or any dispute with respect to [the agreement's] meaning, interpretation or application." (Emphasis added.) The Association argues that the employees were suspended in violation of the agreement's "Just Cause Provision." It is clear then that the Association is alleging a violation of the agreement which, by the very terms of the agreement, must be processed through the four-step grievance mechanism.*fn6

As to Wadsworth's grievance, the arbitrator concluded that the employee was deprived of professional advantage without just cause, i.e., he was suspended in disregard of seniority and certification rights. The arbitrator thus found Wadsworth's suspension improper since he was certified to teach in another department where a junior employee had been retained.

As to Patrick's grievance, the arbitrator's conclusion that the employee's suspension was improper was based on the School's failure to comply with the Public School Code in curtailing and altering its

[ 69 Pa. Commw. Page 213]

English program. In view of the Statutory Savings Clause,*fn7 which incorporates the Public School Code into the collective bargaining agreement, we believe that the parties intended to allow the arbitrator to decide whether the School has complied with the Public School Code in suspending its professional employees. See Rylke v. Portage Area School District, 473 Pa. 481, 375 A.2d 692 (1977).

We conclude that the issue of the suspensions' propriety is within the agreement's terms, thus our inquiry ends.*fn8 See Leechburg Area School District at 521, 424 A.2d at 1313. It must be remembered that it was the arbitrator's construction which was bargained for and, as long as the arbitrator's decision draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement, we cannot overrule it merely because we might be inclined to interpret it differently.

Affirmed.

[ 69 Pa. Commw. Page 214]

Order

The Cambria County Common Pleas Court order No. 1980-4728, dated June 23, 1981, is hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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