Appealed From No. GD 96-001108. Common Pleas Court of the County of Allegheny. Judge MELVIN.
Before: Honorable Joseph T. Doyle, Judge, Honorable Bernard L. McGINLEY, Judge, Honorable Samuel L. Rodgers, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Judge Doyle.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doyle
The Wage and Policy Committee of the Wilkins Township Police Department (Committee), as representative for the bargaining unit of police officers of Wilkins Township, appeals from a decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which vacated and modified an Act 111 arbitrators' award amending provisions of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Committee and the Township of Wilkins (Township) for the three-year period January 1, 1996, through December 31, 1998.
The Committee and the Township had a collective bargaining agreement for the years 1993, 1994, and 1995 (Old CBA), and the relevant provisions of that agreement provided as follows: ARTICLE XV
HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFITS
A. Health Care Benefits. All the health care insurance policies maintained by the Township, at Township expense, for the benefit of the officers and their families, shall continue in effect during the terms of this contract . . . . In addition, officers shall be eligible for 65 Special coverage at the expense of the Township and at the time they become eligible for Medicare provided they do not have the same or equivalent coverage.
D. For employees who retire after December 31, 1989,[ *fn1 ] the Township will, for the employees only, provide for the continuation of basic health care coverage (hospital/surgical/major medical) and prescription drug coverage under the Township's group health care policies for those benefits at the Township's expense. This benefit shall be available to the employee for the limited period between the employee's retirement and the employee's 65th birthday. . . .[ *fn2 ]
(Committee's Brief at 7-8.)
Basically, therefore, under the Old CBA, police officers and their families would be provided health care coverage until the officer retired. After retirement, although the officer himself would continue to be covered, such coverage would not be extended to his spouse or family. Furthermore, this coverage for the retiree would be provided only until the officer reached age 65, when he would be entitled to Medicare, and the Township would then only provide 65 Special coverage for him alone.
In the course of bargaining for an agreement to begin on January 1, 1996, the Committee proposed, inter alia, Blue/Cross Blue Shield health coverage for retirees and their families, and "Retroactive" "65 Special" coverage for all past retirees. The Township, on the other hand, proposed changing Blue Cross/Blue Shied coverage to a less expensive "Select Blue" plan, or to implement employee contributions toward the health care insurance premiums.
On July 25, 1995, the Committee declared an impasse and notified the Township of its intention to proceed to binding arbitration pursuant to the Act of June 24, 1968, P.L. 237, as amended, 43 P.S. §§ 217.1-.10 (Act 111). Accordingly, the matter was submitted to arbitration, and, on December 20, 1995, an arbitration panel issued an award for the three-year period of January 1, 1996 through December 31, 1998 (New CBA). In resolving the disputed issues, the arbitration panel awarded the change from traditional Blue Cross/Blue Shield coverage to the less expensive Select Blue plan and deleted the freestanding prescription coverage.
The arbitration panel amended the introductory sentence to Subsection A of the CBA to provide as follows:
Pursuant to the arbitration award issued under AAA Case No. 55-360-0188-95, Wilkins Township shall, during the term of this Agreement, unless modified by a writing between the parties, maintain at Township expense, for the benefit of the officers and their families, the basic health care program offered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Western Pennsylvania and known as Select Blue. . . .
(Arbitration Award at 3; Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 16a.) The arbitrators also amended the second sentence of ...