Somerset Area Sch. Dist. v. Somerset Area Educ. Assn., 050806 PACCA, 663 C.D. 2005

Docket Nº:663 C.D. 2005
Party Name:Somerset Area School District, Appellant v. Somerset Area Education Association
Case Date:May 08, 2006
Court:Court of Appeals of Pennsylvania

Somerset Area School District, Appellant


Somerset Area Education Association

No. 663 C.D. 2005

Court of Appeals of Pennsylvania

May 8, 2006

Argued January 31, 2006.




The Somerset Area School District (School District) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County that denied the District's petition to vacate a grievance arbitration award. Arbitrator Thomas K. Goldie (Arbitrator) determined that the School District violated the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Somerset Area Education Association (Association) and the School District by failing to recognize that "long-term substitute teachers" are part of the bargaining unit as established by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) and set forth in Article I of the CBA. The School District questions whether the Arbitrator committed an error of law when he failed to distinguish contractual language concerning long-term substitute teachers in this CBA from that in contracts in cases cited by the Association and therefore erred when he determined that the issue was rationally derived from the CBA.

On January 29, 1971, the PLRB certified the Association as the exclusive representative of certain employees of the School District for purposes of collective bargaining for a unit comprised of:

full-time classroom teachers under regular professional employes contract per School Code of Pennsylvania [Public School Code of 1949 (School Code), Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, as amended, 24 P.S. §§1-101 -27-2702], librarians, guidance counselors, home school visitor psychologist, and school nurses; and excluding all non-professional employes, supervisors, first level supervisors, and confidential employes as defined in the Act [Public Employe Relations Act (PERA), Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 563, as amended, 43 P.S. §§1101.101 - 1101.2301].

Joint Ex. 3, PERA-R-772-C; Reproduced Record (R.R.) 103a.

On July 1, 1984, in a Nisi Order of Unit Clarification issued on a joint petition to include various part-time employees, the PLRB clarified the bargaining unit to include "all regular part-time classroom teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, home and school visitors, school psychologists and school nurses." Joint Ex. 4, PERA-U-84-340-W; R.R. 104a. The PLRB indicated that it was including those part-time employees in the unit "who meet the Board's test so as to be regular part-time employes and not casual." Id. (citing School District of Township of Millcreek v. Millcreek Educ. Ass'n., 440 A.2d 673 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1982)). The 1995 CBA and the CBA effective July 1, 1998 to June 30, 2000 included "Article I - Recognition," providing that "the bargaining unit consists of all full-time and regular part-time classroom teachers," librarians, guidance counselors and so forth. Joint Ex. 1; R.R. 68a. The parties did not agree on a new contract before June 30, 2000, but they agreed to continue operating under the status quo during negotiations. They did so through the 2002 - 2003 school year.

On June 30, 2003, the Association filed a grievance asserting that the School District was violating the CBA by employing long-term substitute teachers and failing to pay them the salaries and benefits of other teachers. On May 21, 2004, the Arbitrator issued his opinion and award concluding that the long-term substitutes are within the scope of the bargaining unit. He determined that he had jurisdiction over this issue because the matter does not involve a question of unit clarification that must be referred to the PLRB but rather an interpretation of the language of the Article I recognition provision, specifically, the meaning of the phrase "full-time and regular part-time classroom teachers[.]"

On the merits, the Arbitrator noted that in Millcreek the Court stated that provisions of the School Code are not dispositive of employee status under the PERA, but it also stated that the distinction in the School Code between permanent teachers and substitute teachers was merely one factor...

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