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Luzerne Intermediate Unit No. 18 v. Luzerne Intermediate Unit Educ. Ass'n

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

April 3, 2014

Luzerne Intermediate Unit No. 18, Appellant
v.
Luzerne Intermediate Unit Education Association, PSEA/NEA

Argued March 10, 2014

Page 320

Appealed from No. 4927-2013. Common Pleas Court of the County of Luzerne. Vough, J.

John G. Audi, Jr., Pittston, for appellant.

Jeffrey Husisian, Wilkes Barre, for appellees.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 321

P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge

Appellant Luzerne Intermediate Unit No. 18 (LIU) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County (trial court), which denied LIU's petition to partially vacate an arbitration award. In the award, an arbitrator sustained the Luzerne Intermediate Unit Education Association, PSEA/NEA's (Association) grievance in part and denied the grievance in part. In so doing, the arbitrator directed LIU to provide the following to the Association's bargaining unit members for the 2010-2011 work year: (1) appropriate salary step and column increases, (2) a new salary schedule using a particular formulary process, and (3) corresponding pay increases, retroactive to the start of the 2010-2011 work year on August 23, 2010. For the reasons set forth below, we now affirm.

The facts as found by the arbitrator are as follows. LIU is a public educational facility that provides services to students with special needs in twelve school districts (Component School Districts) located throughout Luzerne County. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 63a.) The Association represents a bargaining unit of professionals who work for LIU. ( Id.) LIU and the Association were parties to a 2005-2010 CBA, under which LIU paid the Association members pursuant to a salary schedule. ( Id. at 64a.) The salary schedule determines annual pay on the basis of two factors: (1) the employee's years of experience with LIU (steps), and (2) the employee's educational background (columns). ( Id.)

The salary schedules do not contain specified levels of compensation, but rather entail a " formulary process" for calculating the amounts set forth therein. ( Id.) Prior to 2010, the formulary process was historically applied each year during July to mid-August. ( Id.) The formulary process takes the salary schedule from each of the Component School Districts serviced by LIU and averages the numbers. ( Id.) In using the formulary process, LIU would obtain the salary schedules from the Component School Districts and share the information with the Association. ( Id. at 64a-65a.) The parties would agree on the averages to be used and, after the salary schedule had been finalized, it would be distributed to the employees. ( Id. at 65a.) The new pay rates were effective on the first day of the new work year. ( Id.) Notably, although proposals had been made to alter or eliminate the formulary process during each round of bargaining, use of the formulary process remained constant through the 2005-2010 CBA. ( Id.)

In December 2009, the parties entered into negotiations for a successor CBA, but as of August 31, 2010, the parties had not reached an agreement on a new CBA. ( Id. at 64a-65a.) Nevertheless, the Association members continued to work without a contract into the 2010-2011 school year.

Page 322

( Id. at 65a.) By early September 2010, the Association staff had not received step or column movement. ( Id.) Moreover, LIU did not agree to construct salary schedules different from those which had existed for the 2009-2010 school year, based upon the formulary process. ( Id.) Consequently, on September 7, 2010, the Association submitted a grievance in protest of their members' salaries being frozen, which grievance was eventually submitted to arbitration for resolution.

On March 20, 2013, the arbitrator issued an award sustaining in part and denying in part the grievance, based on the language of the 2005-2010 CBA and the law concerning status quo. ( Id. at 88a-89a.) In so doing, the arbitrator determined that the applicable sections of the 2005-2010 CBA included Article VII (relating to negotiations of a successor agreement),[1] Article XXVII (relating to wages and salary provisions),[2] Article XXIX (relating to statutory savings clause),[3] and Article XXX (relating to duration of agreement).[4] (R.R. at 62a-63a.)

The arbitrator first concluded that LIU was required to provide step and column movement to the Association's members at the start of the 2010-2011 work year. The arbitrator reasoned that the start of the 2010-2011 work year was August 23, 2010, for bargaining unit members and that a CBA was in place at that time, as the 2005-2010 CBA did not expire until August 31, 2010. ( Id. at 81.) The arbitrator further reasoned that the contract provided for step and column movement each work year and that, as a result, the contractual entitlement of eligible employees to the step and column movement for the 2010-2011 work year had been triggered

Page 323

prior to the contract expiring and the status quo taking effect as required by law. ( Id.) The arbitrator indicated that there was no past practice that would negate the application of the clear contract language and that, to the contrary, it was undisputed that teachers had always received credit for step and column movement on the first day of the new work year. ( Id. at 81a-82a.) The arbitrator further noted that while LIU stressed that there had never before been a situation where a CBA was not in place for a new school year, that showed at most that no past practice existed at all. ( Id.) The arbitrator further reasoned that it was untenable that the Association's members would receive step and ...


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