During 2009, the Martins Ferry City School District experienced financial difficulties. As a result, contract negotiations between the board of education and the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, Local 4 AFSCME and its Local 546 (OAPSE) resulted in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that did not provide a wage increase in 2009, but included wage reopener provisions for 2010 and 2011.

In January 2010, the board implemented a 5% uniform salary reduction. OAPSE filed grievances after the reduction was implemented alleging that the uniform salary reduction violated the CBA. The grievances were processed as outlined in the CBA, but were denied. OAPSE appealed the issue to arbitration.

In June 2011, the arbitrator issued an award sustaining the grievances. The arbitrator required the board to terminate the 5% wage reduction on the bargaining unit. In addition, the arbitrator determined that any changes must be collectively bargained per the wage reopener provision in the CBA. It was concluded that the statutes used by the board to implement the wage reduction were at a variance with the CBA terms, and therefore the CBA superseded those statutes. The board was ordered to "...pay the members of the bargaining unit the difference between their negotiated wages and the uniform reduction" for the 2010-2011 contract year.

The board appealed and contended that the arbitrator exceeded her authority. The trial court ruled in favor of the board and vacated the award. The trial court found that the arbitrator exceeded her authority by issuing an award that a) modified the CBA by adding terms; b) was contrary to law; and c) did not draw its essence from or have a rational nexus to the CBA. OAPSE appealed. On appeal, OAPSE contended that the trial court incorrectly vacated the arbitration award and improperly substituted its judgment for that of the arbitrator.

The Seventh District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision and reinstated the arbitrator's award. It determined that the trial court erred by substituting its judgment for that of the arbitrator and vacating the award because "the arbitrator's award drew its essence from the CBA, which manifested the intent of the parties for the CBA to preempt statutory provisions relative to employee wages."

In addition, the court of appeals noted that the arbitrator interpreted the CBA to demonstrate the parties' intent to preempt the statutes in question instead of adding terms to the agreement. The arbitrator's interpretation of the CBA was reasonable because she did not add terms.

The OSBA Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) provided support to the Martins Ferry City School District by providing financial assistance and an amicus curiae brief. If you have any questions about the case please contact OSBA's legal division at (614) 540-4000.

Posted by Candice Christon on 8/6/2013