Board of Ed. of Union Free School Dist. No. 3 of Town of Huntington v. Associated Teachers of Huntington, Inc.

Decision Date16 March 1972
Citation331 N.Y.S.2d 17,30 N.Y.2d 122,282 N.E.2d 109
Parties, 282 N.E.2d 109, 79 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2881, 68 Lab.Cas. P 52,765, 68 Lab.Cas. P 52,793 BOARD OF EDUCATION OF UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 3 OF the TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, Appellant-Respondent, v. ASSOCIATED TEACHERS OF HUNTINGTON, INC., Respondent-Appellant.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Louis C. Bernst, Huntington, for appellant-respondent.

Robert Chanin, Richard R. Rowley, and Jeffrey G. Plant, Albany, for respondent-appellant.

FULD, Chief Judge.

We are called upon to decide (1) whether a school board has the authority to enter into a collective bargaining agreement granting economic benefits to schoolteachers, absent specific statutory authorization to do so and (2) whether such a board lacks the power to enter into a collective bargaining agreement containing a clause which provides for the arbitration of disputes concerning disciplinary action taken against tenure teachers.

The facts are undisputed. The plaintiff (hereafter called the 'Board'), as a public employer under the Taylor Law (Civil Service Law, art. 14), recognized the defendant (hereafter referred to as the 'Association') as the employee organization representing the school district teachers. The parties--following recommendations by a factfinding panel appointed by the New York State Public Employment Relations Board--entered into a collective bargaining agreement for the 1969--70 school year. Included in this agreement are five provisions which gave rise to this litigation. Four of them relate to the payment of economic benefits in the form of either salary increases or reimbursement for certain expenses incurred, and the fifth provides for arbitration in cases in which tenure teachers have been disciplined.

The first two challenged provisions deal with the reimbursement of teachers for job related personal property damage (the damage reimbursement provision). 1 The next provides partial reimbursement to teachers for graduate courses taken with the approval of the school administration (the tuition reimbursement provision). 2 The fourth questioned clause (art. XXI) provides for a salary increment for teachers during their last year of service before retirement (the retirement award provision) and reads as follows:

'Each teacher who hereafter indicates his intention to retire one year prior to such retirement under the New York State Teachers Retirement System or whose retirement is mandatory under such system shall receive at the start of the last school year of service a salary increase for that year equal to 5/10 of 1% (0.5%) of his current salary multiplied by the number of years of service in this school district, such salary increase not to exceed $1500.'

The remaining disputed provision (art. XVIII, § C) relates to the arbitration of disputes regarding disciplinary action taken against tenure teachers (the grievance provision):

'No tenure teacher shall be disciplined, reprimanded, reduced in rank or compensation, suspended, demoted, transferred, terminated or otherwise deprived of any professional advantage without just cause. * * * Any such action, including adverse evaluation of teacher performance or a violation of professional ethics asserted by the Board or any agent thereof, shall be subject to the grievance procedure set forth in this Agreement'.

The Board, questioning its own power to agree and bind itself to the provisions set out above, raised the issue of their legality in September, 1969, during the negotiations leading up to the execution of the collective bargaining agreement, and shortly thereafter it brought this action for a judgment (1) declaring those provisions illegal and of no effect and (2) staying arbitration proceedings which had been commenced by the Association under the grievance provision. The court at Special Term, 310 N.Y.S.2d 929, held that the provisions relating to tuition reimbursement and to the grievance procedure were illegal but sustained the validity of the remaining provisions. On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with Special Term in all respects except one; it concluded that the tuition reimbursement provision was also valid (36 A.D.2d 753, 319 N.Y.S.2d 469). Two of the justices, dissenting in part, believed that the retirement award provision was illegal.

In our view, all of the challenged provisions are valid.

The basic question posed by this appeal is whether there is any fundamental conflict between the provisions of the Taylor Law and the provisions of any other statute dealing with the powers and duties of school boards. Under the Taylor Law, a public employer, in order 'to promote harmonious and cooperative relationships between government and its employees' ( § 200), is empowered to recognize an employee organization for the purpose of collective bargaining negotiations ( § 204, subd. 1). When such an organization is recognized, the public employer 'is, required to negotiate collectively with such employee organization in the determination of, and administration of grievances arising under, The terms and conditions of employment of the public employees as provided in this article, and to negotiate and enter into written agreements with such employee organizations in determining such terms and conditions of employment' ( § 204, subd. 2; italics supplied).

In other words, the validity of a provision found in a collective agreement negotiated by a public employer turns upon whether it constitutes a term or condition of employment. If it does, then, the public employer must negotiate as to such term or condition and, upon reaching an understanding, must incorporate it into the collective agreement unless some statutory provision circumscribes its power to do so.

It is manifest that each of the provisions here challenged constitutes a term or condition of employment. It is certainly not uncommon for collective agreements in the public sector, as well as in the private sector, to contain 'damage reimbursement' provisions similar to the one before us. If, during the course of performing his duties, an employee has his clothing, eyeglasses or other personal effects damaged or destroyed, it is certainly reasonable to reimburse him for the cost of repairing or replacing them.

The tuition reimbursement provision, as well, clearly relates to a term and condition of employment. School boards throughout the State pay teachers a salary differential for completing a specified number of credit hours above the baccalaureate degree. Since graduate work tends to increase teacher skills and is beneficial to the school district, there is no reason why the Board should not encourage such work by absorbing one half of the tuition expense.

The so-called retirement award provision also involves a term and condition of employment. 3 Employers, both in the public and private sectors, have traditionally paid higher salaries based upon length of service and training. In addition to the fact that the payment was to be for services actually rendered during their last year of employment, the benefit provided for served the legitimate purpose of inducing experienced teachers to remain in the employ of the school district. 4 It is not, therefore, a constitutionally prohibited 'gift' of public moneys (N.Y.Const., art. VII, § 8, subd. 1; art. VIII, § 1), since the retiring teachers who benefit from this provision have furnished a 'corresponding benefit or consideration to the State'. (Matter of Teachers Assn. (Bd. of Educ.), 34 A.D.2d 351, 353, 312 N.Y.S.2d 252, 254.) Nor may the provision be regarded as creating a retirement plan since the additional compensation was made payable only upon completion of the required services during the year prior to retirement. If this were to be deemed a retirement benefit, then, it would be equally logical to argue that increases in compensation in the years immediately prior to retirement were part and parcel of the retirement plan.

This brings us to the grievance provision. It assures teachers with tenure that no disciplinary action will be taken against them without just cause and that any dispute as to the existence of such cause may be submitted to arbitration. It is a provision commonly found in collective bargaining agreements in the private and public sectors and carries out Federal and State policy favoring arbitration as a means of resolving labor disputes. (See Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Co., 363 U.S. 574, 583--585; Matter of Associated Teachers (Bd. of Educ.), 60 Misc.2d 443, 447, 303 N.Y.S.2d 469, 473; Klaus, The Evolution of a Collective Bargaining Relationship in Public Education, 67 Mich.L.Rev. 1033, 1040--1041; Krislov & Peters, Arbitration of Grievances in Educational Units, 23 Lab.L.J. 25.)

In sum, each of the provisions under attack relates to a term or condition of employment and, accordingly, the Board was, in light of the Taylor Law, required to negotiate--unless its contentions, to which we turn, compel a different conclusion.

Although the Board raises specific objections that are peculiar to each of the challenged items, its basic premise is the same--that, absent a statutory provision Expressly authorizing a school board to provide for a particular term or condition of employment, it is legally prohibited from doing so. Proceeding from that premise, the Board would have us hold that school boards possess only those powers granted by a single provision, section 1709, of the Education Law. Quite apart from the fact that that section contains a broad grant of powers, 5 the Board's premise is fallacious. Under the Taylor Law, the obligation to bargain as to all terms and conditions of employment is a broad and unqualified one, and there is no reason why the mandatory provision of that act should be limited, in any way, except in cases where some other applicable statutory provision explicitly and definitively prohibits the public employer from making an agreement as to a...

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