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Martins Ferry City School District Board of Education v. Ohio Association of Public School Employees

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District

June 21, 2013

MARTINS FERRY CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
OHIO ASSOCIATION OF PUBLIC SCHOOL EMPLOYEES, et al., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANT.

Civil Appeal from Common Pleas Court, Case No. 11 CV 382.

For Plaintiff-Appellee: Attorney James Burnes Bricker & Eckler, LLP Attorney Al Davies Fregiato, Myser, Davies & Gagin

For Defendants-Appellants: Attorney Kristen McKinley

Hon. Mary DeGenaro Hon. Gene Donofrio Hon. Joseph J. Vukovich

OPINION

DeGenaro, P.J.

{¶1} Defendants-Appellants Ohio Association of Public School Employees, Local 4 AFSCME and its Local 546 appeal the decision of the Belmont County Court of Common Pleas vacating the arbitration award upon the motion of Plaintiff-Appellee Martins Ferry City School District Board of Education in their dispute regarding whether the Board may institute a 5% uniform wage reduction of the nonteaching employees' wages. OAPSE argues that civil service law applies to the bargaining unit, not statutory provisions which provide for uniform wage reduction. Further, OAPSE contends the trial court erred in vacating the arbitration award and improperly substituted its own judgment for that of the arbitrator.

{¶2} OAPSE's arguments are meritorious in part. This court will not disturb the arbitrator's decision that R.C. Chapter 124 did not apply to the employees of the school district. But because the arbitrator's award draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement, which manifested the intent of the parties for the CBA to preempt statutory provisions relative to employee wages, the trial court erred in substituting its judgment for that of the arbitrator and vacating the arbitration award. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed, and the arbitrator's award is reinstated.

Facts and Procedural History

{¶3} OAPSE is the sole and exclusive bargaining agent for all nonteaching employees employed by the Martins Ferry City School District, except confidential and administrative personnel. The Board and OAPSE have been parties to a series of collective bargaining agreements. The collective bargaining agreement at issue in this case was effective from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2011. The CBA contains an article on wages which provides for no increase in wages for the first year and then wage reopeners at the beginning of the second and third years, along with a salary schedule. Further, the CBA outlines a grievance procedure with final and binding arbitration as the final step.

{¶4} In 2009, the school district was in financial distress, and ended the 2009 fiscal year with a deficit. As a result, the school district received an audit citation, and the Performance Audit Division of the State Auditor's Office performed a financial review of the district and presented a report to the Board. In that report, it recommended that the Board reduce the full-time teaching staff by a minimum of nine. The Board felt that the recommendations in the Performance Audit would have a negative effect on the school district's educational program.

{¶5} Due to this financial distress, the parties' contract negotiations resulted in a CBA providing for no wage increase in 2009 and wage reopener provisions for 2010 and 2011. OAPSE decided not to exercise the wage reopener option for 2010 because of the school district's financial condition, and sent a letter to the superintendent regarding its decision. Subsequently, on January 25, 2010, the Board determined that it would institute a 5% uniform salary reduction effective July 5, 2010 for a maximum of two years. This salary reduction would be for all union and non-union employees and administrators, including OAPSE. The Board further determined that the salary indexes and schedules would be frozen as of that date, January 25, 2010, for a maximum of two years. The Board presented OAPSE with a Memorandum Agreement concerning the uniform salary reduction, but OAPSE determined that it would not sign this agreement. The MFEA, the teachers' union, did sign the Memorandum Agreement.

{¶6} The wage reduction for twelve-month employees took effect on July 15, 2010 and the reduction for nine-month employees took effect on August 27, 2010. OAPSE filed two grievances for the different employee groups challenging the uniform wage reductions as a violation of the CBA. These grievances proceeded through the steps pursuant to the CBA and were denied. In denying the grievances, the Board President held that the "wage reduction was part of a uniform plan affecting all employees of our school district and governed by Ohio Revised Code 3319.082."

{¶7} OAPSE appealed the matter to arbitration and the two grievances were consolidated. The Board contested whether the arbitrator had jurisdiction to hear the matter, and the arbitrator held a preliminary hearing and determined that she had jurisdiction to hear the grievances. Then on April 26, 2011, the arbitrator held a hearing on the merits of the grievances, during which both parties presented testimony and exhibits.

{¶8} On June 29, 2011, the arbitrator issued an opinion and award sustaining the grievance and directing the Board to cease and desist from implementing the 5% wage reduction on the bargaining unit. The arbitrator found that any such changes must be collectively bargained for pursuant to the wage reopener provision in the CBA. The statutes the Board relied upon to execute the wage reduction were at variance with the terms in the CBA, and the CBA superseded these statutes. Thus, the arbitrator directed the Board to pay the members of the bargaining unit the difference between their negotiated wages and the uniform reduction for the contract year 2010-2011.

{¶9} Between September 27, 2011, and November 7, 2011, the Board and OAPSE made various filings with the trial court. Pertinent to the merits of this appeal, the Board sought an order from the trial court vacating the June 29, 2011 arbitration award pursuant to R.C. 2711.13, arguing that the arbitrator had exceeded her powers by issuing an award that: a) modifies the CBA by adding terms, an intent to supersede the applicable statues, which were not found in the express language of the CBA; b) is contrary to law; and c) does not draw its essence from, or have a rational nexus to, the CBA. Conversely, OAPSE sought an order confirming the arbitration award.

{¶10} On March 5, 2012, the trial court filed a journal entry sustaining the Board's application and vacated the arbitrator's award pursuant to R.C. 2711.10(D) and overruled OAPSE's application to confirm the arbitration award. The trial court made the following findings: "[T]he Arbitrator exceeded her powers by issuing an Award that: (A) modifies the collective bargaining agreement by adding terms not found in the express language of the agreement; (B) is contrary to law; and (C) does not draw its essence from, or have a rational nexus to, the collective bargaining agreement."

Standard of Review of Arbitration Awards

{¶11} OAPSE's brief lists ten assignments of error; however, the arguments in the brief are grouped into three sections which appear to combine some of the assignments of error. The following are the arguments set forth in the law and argument section of OAPSE's brief.

{¶12} "1. The trial court erred when it substituted its own analysis and findings for that of the arbitrator in sustaining the Motion to Vacate and denying the Application to Confirm."

{¶13} "2. The Belmont County Court of Common Pleas erred when it found that Sections 3319.081 and 3319.082 of the Ohio Revised Code permit school districts to unilaterally reduce the salary paid to non-teaching employees provided that the reduction is pursuant to a uniform plan ...


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