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Connelly v. Steel Valley Educ. Ass'n

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 28, 2015

Patrick Connelly, Jeffrey Deabner, Ryan Dunmire, Cindy Levick, Julie Miller, Marguerite Luvara, Richard Pireaux, Catherine Pisula, Rebecca Russell, Kelly Sabo, Edmond Tozzi, and Bobbi Vargo, Appellants
v.
The Steel Valley Education Association, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the Steel Valley School District

Submitted April 14, 2015

Page 1128

Appealed from No. GD 13-002126. Common Pleas Court of the County of Allegheny. O'Reilly, J.

Carolyn E. Paletta, Pittsburgh, for appellants.

Richard E. McEwen, Edinboro, for appellees Steel Valley Education Association and Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Joseph W. Cavrich, Pittsburgh, for appellee Steel Valley School District.

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉ E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge.

OPINION

Page 1129

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, JUDGE

Patrick Connelly, Jeffrey Deabner, Ryan Dunmire, Cindy Levick, Julie Miller, Marguerite Luvara, Richard Pireaux, Catherine Pisula, Rebecca Russell, Kelly Sabo, Edmond Tozzi and Bobbi Vargo (collectively, Teachers) appeal an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court) dismissing Teachers' complaint against their union, Steel Valley Education Association (Union), the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the Steel Valley School District (School District). Teachers' complaint alleged that Union acted in bad faith by withdrawing Teachers' grievance in order to gain favorable treatment from the School District in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. The trial court sustained the demurrer filed by the defendants after concluding that a labor union is not required to arbitrate a case that it considers non-meritorious. We affirm.

Teachers' complaint alleges the following relevant facts. Teachers were employees of the School District and members of Union as well as the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).[1] Union is the sole representative for its members in matters concerning the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the School District.[2]

On April 8, 2011, the School District informed Teachers by letter that they were being considered for a job furlough. Amended Complaint, ¶ 20; Reproduced Record at 205a (R.R. ). On April 26, 2011, the Board of School Directors approved a resolution to eliminate a number of teaching positions because of " a substantial decrease in pupil enrollment" in the School District as well as a " curtailment or alteration of the educational program." Amended Complaint, ¶ 22; R.R. 205a. The School Board directed the Superintendent to identify the specific jobs to be eliminated, and he did so. On May 24, 2011, the School Board approved the Superintendent's recommendations and adopted a resolution naming those employees, including Teachers, who would be furloughed for the 2011-2012 school year. On May 25, 2011, the School Board notified Teachers by letter that they would be furloughed effective June 30, 2011. Amended Complaint, ¶ 26; R.R. 206a.

Article IV of the CBA governs the rights of Teachers in their employment; it incorporates by reference the Public School Code of 1949.[3] R.R. 243a.[4] Teachers

Page 1130

believed that their furloughs violated Section 1124 of the Public School Code, 24 P.S. § 11-1124. At the time of their furlough, Section 1124 stated, in relevant part, as follows:

Any board of school directors may suspend the necessary number of professional employees, for any of the causes hereinafter enumerated:
(1) Substantial decrease in pupil enrollment in the school district;
(2) Curtailment or alteration of the educational program on recommendation of the superintendent, concurred in by the board of school directors, approved by the Department of Public Instruction, as a result of substantial decline in class or course enrollments or to conform with standards of organization or educational activities required by law or recommended by the Department of Public Instruction[.]

24 P.S. § 11-1124(1), (2) (emphasis added).[5] Teachers believed that the School District violated Section 1124 by not obtaining the Pennsylvania Department of Education's approval prior to planning their furloughs. Amended Complaint, ¶ ¶ 29-30, ¶ 36, ¶ ¶ 39-42; R.R. 206a-208a. Teachers opted to grieve their furloughs through the Union instead of pursuing a local agency hearing before the School Board.[6] Amended Complaint, ¶ 43; R.R. 208a.

On May 27, 2011, Union filed Grievance #10-209 on behalf of Teachers challenging the furloughs. Amended Complaint, ¶ 44; R.R. 208a. The Superintendent denied the grievance. Amended Complaint, ¶ 47; R.R. 208a. Union appealed to the School Board. On June 29, 2011, the School Board denied the grievance. Amended Complaint, ¶ 49; R.R. 208a. On July 8, 2011, Union moved the grievance to arbitration. Amended Complaint, ¶ 50; R.R. 209a. Union promised Teachers that it would pursue their grievance to arbitration. Amended Complaint, ¶ 52; R.R. 209a.

On June 22, 2011, the School District requested the Department of Education's approval of its curtailment or alteration of the educational program. Amended Complaint, ¶ 30; R.R. 206a. The School District explained that the furloughs were necessary in order to achieve a balanced budget for the 2011-2012 school year; the letter did not mention that the furloughs had already occurred. Amended Complaint, ¶ ¶ 38-39; R.R. 207a. On December 20, 2011, the Department of Education approved the curtailment or alteration of the School District's educational program by the furloughs. Amended Complaint, ¶ 40; R.R. 207a.

Page 1131

Upon learning of the Department's approval, Union sought advice from PSEA's legal counsel. Amended Complaint, ¶ 53; R.R. 209a. On January 30, 2012, a PSEA staff attorney, Mary Jo Miller, Esq., opined that because the Department had approved the School District's curtailment of its educational plan, Teachers' grievance lacked merit and should be withdrawn. Amended Complaint, ¶ ¶ 54-55; R.R. 209a.

On February 7, 2012, Union withdrew Grievance #10-209 with prejudice before the scheduled arbitration hearing was held. Amended Complaint, ¶ 56; R.R. 209a. Union neither informed nor consulted with Teachers prior to withdrawing the grievance. Amended Complaint, ¶ ¶ 58-59; R.R. 210a. Nor did Union attempt to negotiate with the School District to allow Teachers to continue their challenge to the furloughs. Amended Complaint, ¶ 61; R.R. 210a. Teachers ...


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