Appeal from the order of Commonwealth Court dated February 25, 1987, at No. 171 C.D. 1985, which reversed an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, Civil Division, dated December 17, 1984, entered at No. 1984-2252, resulting in the reversal of an arbitration award rendered pursuant to Public Employe Collective Bargaining Agreement Grievance.
Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala, Papadakos and Stout, JJ. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion.
This is an appeal from an order of the Commonwealth Court, 104 Pa. Commw. 191, 521 A.2d 965, which reversed an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, which, in turn, had upheld an arbitrator's decision regarding a grievance filed by the Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical Education Association (hereinafter Association) on behalf of one of its members, Jill Ashcom. Ashcom was a tenured professional employee of the Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical School (hereinafter School), working as a teacher in the Mathematics Department. Just
prior to commencement of the 1983-84 school year, Ashcom was notified that, due to declining school enrollment, she was being furloughed from her job. In response, a grievance was filed by the Association, and, ultimately, the matter was submitted to arbitration.
At issue in the arbitration proceeding was the method to be utilized in assigning furloughs. The School's position was that the pertinent collective bargaining agreement required that furloughs be made on the basis of departmental seniority. Since Ashcom was the least senior member of the Mathematics Department, and also of the French Department where she was similarly certified to teach, she was selected for furlough. The Association claimed, however, that furloughs were to be assigned on the basis of district-wide seniority, rather than departmental seniority. Under this approach, employment positions would have been reshuffled so that Ashcom would have retained her job as a mathematics teacher while another individual with less district-wide seniority would have been furloughed. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the Association, adopting the view that the furlough process must take into account district-wide seniority.
The sole issue presented in this appeal is whether the Commonwealth Court erred in overturning the arbitrator's decision. It is well settled that, in reviewing an arbitrator's interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, broad deference is to be accorded the arbitrator's decision. Scranton Federation of Teachers, Local 1147 v. Scranton School District, 498 Pa. 58, 65, 444 A.2d 1144, 1147 (1982). This is due to the fact that the parties bargained for an arbitrator's interpretation, not a court's; hence, the mere fact that the agreement is subject to other interpretations does not warrant judicial intervention into the arbitrator's realm. Id., 498 Pa. at 65, 444 A.2d at 1147; Leechburg Area School District v. Dale, 492 Pa. 515, 520, 424 A.2d 1309, 1312 (1981).
The so-called "essence of the collective bargaining agreement" test has been frequently enunciated by this
Court as the standard governing judicial deference to arbitrators' decisions. Scranton, supra; Leechburg, supra. It requires that an arbitrator's interpretation be upheld if it can, in any rational way, be derived from the language and context of the agreement. Scranton, 498 Pa. at 64-65, 444 A.2d at 1147; Leechburg, 492 Pa. at 520, 424 A.2d at 1312; Ringgold Area School District v. Ringgold Education Association (PSEA/NEA), 489 Pa. 380, 383, 414 A.2d 118, 120 (1980); Community College of Beaver County v. Community College of Beaver County, Society of the Faculty (PSEA/NEA), 473 Pa. 576, 593-94, 375 A.2d 1267, 1275 (1977). When an issue, properly defined, is within the terms of a collective bargaining agreement and the arbitrator's decision can in a rational way be derived from the terms of the agreement, one can say that the decision draws its "essence" from the agreement, and reversal is not warranted even if a court believes that the decision, though rational, is incorrect. Leechburg, supra. See also Ringgold, supra; Scranton, supra; Philadelphia Housing Authority v. Union of Security Officers # 1, 500 Pa. 213, 216, 455 A.2d 625, 626-27 (1983) (arbitrator's "manifestly unreasonable," i.e., irrational, interpretation reversed).
Applying these standards to the present case, we believe the Commonwealth Court properly reversed the arbitrator's decision. There is no rational way in which the arbitrator, upon consideration of the provisions of the agreement, could have determined that district-wide seniority should govern the assignment of furloughs.
In Article V, Section B of the collective bargaining agreement, it is plainly stated that departmental seniority ...