Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, in the case of State College Area School District v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO Council 83 -- Ralph Tutlane, Grievant, Civil Action No. 1985-1353.
Robert A. Sloan, with him, Nancy J. McCauley, Kirschner, Walters, Willig, Weinberg & Dempsey, for appellants.
John R. Miller, Jr., Miller, Kistler & Campbell, Inc., for appellee.
Judges Barry and Palladino, and Senior Judge Rogers, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Palladino.
[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 597]
This is an appeal by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, District Council 83 (Union) as collective bargaining agent for employees of the State College Area School District (District). The appeal is from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County (trial court) which vacated an arbitrator's award and ordered a de novo hearing.
At the outset, we address our jurisdiction to entertain this appeal. The Union appeals the order granting the de novo hearing which hearing has not yet been held. Therefore, it can be argued that this is an interlocutory appeal not appealable to this Court. However, the trial court in its order also vacated the award of the arbitrator. This action renders the trial court's order a final one and therefore appealable.
The collective bargaining agreement (agreement) between the Union and the District provided for the resolution of disputes through a grievance procedure. The final step of the grievance procedure requires unresolved disputes to be referred to binding arbitration
[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 598]
as provided in Section 903 of The Public Employee Relations Act (PERA), Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 563, 43 P.S. § 1101.903.
In accord with the agreement, a grievance was filed by the Union on behalf of Ralph Tutlane, a Union school bus driver who had been discharged by the District. The grievance proceeded to arbitration, and the arbitrator conducted a full hearing on May 16, 1985. An award was issued wherein the arbitrator held that there was just cause for severe discipline but not for discharge. He reinstated Tutlane with credit for service, but without back pay. The District appealed to the trial court requesting the award be vacated and a de novo hearing granted.
The Union appeals the order of the trial court vacating the award and ordering a de novo hearing. The Union asserts that the trial court erred when it determined that a) the parties contracted for a scope of review of an arbitration award which superceded the scope of review allowable under the "essence test", and b) the trial court was then free to hold a de novo hearing. Citing Haddon Craftsmen, Inc. v. Bookbinders Local No. 97, 220 Pa. Superior Ct. 206, 281 A.2d 713 (1971),*fn1 the trial court reached its conclusion by relying on the proposition that the essence test is the applicable standard of review unless ...