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ROBERT G. HIGH v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (08/08/84)

decided: August 8, 1984.

ROBERT G. HIGH, JOSEPHINE F. LAPI, JOSEPH E. AMBROSE, DENNIS C. FRYMOYER, DOLORES C. MYATT, JOHN KARAHUTA, APPELLANTS,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BOARD OF REVIEW, APPELLEE



No. 92 E.D. Appeal Docket 1982, Appeal from the Commonwealth Court Order in No. 2483 C.D. 1980, dated July 16, 1982, affirming the Unemployment Compensation Review Board Order in No. B-78-2-I-1109 etc., dated October 10, 1980, which reversed the Referee's decision of January 29, 1980, 67 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 472, Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Larsen, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Nix, C.j., and Zappala, J., joined.

Author: Papadakos

[ 505 Pa. Page 380]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Unemployment Compensation Claimants, Robert G. High, et al., representative of other claimants similarly situated, appeal a Commonwealth Court order 67 Pa. Commw. 472, 447 A.2d 701 (1982) affirming the Unemployment Compensation Review Board's denial of their benefit claims. We affirm.

Claimants are teachers in Reading School District and are represented for collective bargaining purposes by the Reading Education Association (REA), as are all other teachers in the district. REA and the District were parties to a

[ 505 Pa. Page 381]

    collective bargaining agreement which expired on June 30, 1978, without a new agreement being reached.

On September 5, 1978, the beginning of the new school term, the District unilaterally instituted a longer working day for the teachers than had existed under the expired agreement. In spite of this, Claimants and the other teachers reported to work because REA and the District were at that time engaged in a collective bargaining impasse proceeding under the Public Employe Relations Act,*fn1 and REA reasonably believed that the Act prohibited a strike prior to the impasse proceeding's completion.*fn2

By letter of October 13, 1978, REA offered to continue working past the impasse procedure exhaustion-date of October 24, 1978, under the terms and conditions of the expired agreement, and also to provide twenty-four (24) hours notice of a work stoppage. The District did not accept this offer. On October 20, 1978, REA reiterated its offer by "Mailgram," expanding the strike-notice period to fifty (50) hours. The District also rejected this offer. Finally, by letter of October 24, 1978, REA again offered to continue working under the expired agreement's terms and conditions. Because the students' scheduled day then extended beyond that of the teachers under the expired agreement, the offer was made on condition that the District make arrangements for student supervision at the end of the school day. This letter was hand-delivered to the District Superintendent of Schools, Jack Neal, who assured REA that the requested supervision would be provided.

The teachers reported to work on October 25, 1978, but the District failed to provide the requested supervision. That evening REA voted a work-stoppage because of concern over the lack of student supervision and, also, because of indications by the District that teacher salaries would be

[ 505 Pa. Page 382]

    reduced proportionately to the amount of time the students were unsupervised. In effect, the District demanded that the teachers work a longer day than provided for under the terms of the expired contract or suffer a proportionate cut in pay. The teachers did not report to work the next day. No one seriously questions the status of this work stoppage as being a lock-out.

Two days later, on October 28, 1978, the District offered in writing to resume operations under the terms and conditions of the expired agreement, but REA rejected the offer that same day. The issue arises whether this rejection by the REA converted the status of the work stoppage from a lock-out to a strike. The teachers did not return to work throughout the labor dispute, which was settled on November 28, 1978.

The Bureau (now Office) of Employment Security denied the Claimants' subsequent applications for benefits, determining that their unemployment was the result of a strike, and concluding that they were thus disqualified for benefits by Section 402(d) of the Unemployment Compensation Law.*fn3 That section provides a benefit disqualification for those whose unemployment is due to a work stoppage other than a lock-out. The Referee reversed, but provided no clear rationale in his decision for the reversal. The Board reversed the Referee's decision, stating that benefit determinations under the Unemployment Compensation Law are to be made on a week-by-week basis and that the conditions existing in a given week are determinative of benefit eligibility, and held that REA's rejection of the District's offer constituted the work stoppage a strike and not a lock-out and, thus, rendered the Claimants ineligible for benefits respecting the weeks which included and followed the rejection. Commonwealth Court affirmed, and this appeal followed.

The Claimants argue that the Board committed an error of law, contending that the ...


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