Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County in case of In the Matter of Arbitration Between the County of Erie and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District 85, on behalf of Local Union No. 26666, No. 2404-A-1979.
Roger H. Taft, Deputy County Solicitor, for appellant.
Lee W. Jackson, with him Richard Kirschner and Alaine S. Williams, Kirschner, Walters, Willig, Weinberg & Dempsey, for appellee.
Judges Rogers, Blatt and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
Before us is the appeal of the County of Erie (County) from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County which affirmed an arbitrator's award in favor of certain deputy sheriffs who are members of Local 26666 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District 85 (Union).
The County and the Union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement (Agreement) which was in effect from January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980 and which included deputy sheriffs, but which had no provision whatever regarding flat rate reimbursement for deputy sheriffs for the use of their personal vehicles on county business. Prior to the effective beginning date of the agreement, however, deputy sheriffs were paid a monthly flat rate of $215.00 as reimbursement and when a grievance was filed by a deputy sheriff, this flat rate was increased to $265.00 on March 17, 1978. On March 27, 1978, the County, then operating under a new Home Rule Charter which vested administrative power in a county executive, determined that deputy sheriffs would receive a mileage reimbursement,*fn1 effective February 1, 1979, in accordance with the language of Article XXIX, Section 29.2 of the Agreement, which in pertinent part provides:
Employees who are authorized to use their personal automobile for official County business shall be reimbursed at the rate of fifteen cents ($.15) per mile. The present form used to verify mileage expenses shall continue.
On February 2, 1979, the Union filed a grievance claim charging that this March 27, 1978 ruling violated the Agreement, and, after a hearing, an arbitrator sustained the Union's grievance. The arbitrator held that Section 29.2 of the Agreement was ambiguous as to deputy sheriffs and that there had been a past practice in effect, after the effective date of the Agreement between the parties, which provided flat rate reimbursements for them. The court of common pleas affirmed the award, noting that it was bound by the arbitrator's contract interpretation even if he had
failed to perceive the issue involved properly or had erroneously resolved it. Leechburg Area School District v. Dale, 492 Pa. 515, 424 A.2d 1309 (1981).
Our extremely narrow scope of review in this matter is limited to a determination of "whether or not the arbitrator, in relying on the past practices of the parties . . . failed to draw his award from the essence of the contract." Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit No. 5 Education Association v. Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit ...