Commonwealth v. Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, No. 11 MAP 2010, 2011 LEXIS 947 (Pa. April 28, 2011)
When collective bargaining efforts between the Commonwealth and the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association failed, an interest arbitration panel entered an award with a provision that directed the Commonwealth to pay union officers released from duty at an amount designated by the union’s board of directors. The Commonwealth appealed the award to the Commonwealth Court.
Vacating the award’s union leave provision, the Commonwealth Court, relying solely on the Kirsch case, concluded that the interest arbitration panel was without authority to enter the award because the provision would force the Commonwealth to violate Section 5302(b)(2) of the State Employees’ Retirement Code. The union appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
While Act 111 (Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act) explicitly prohibits any appeal of arbitration awards, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarified that the Betancourt case permitted limited judicial review for questions concerning jurisdiction of arbitrators, regularity of proceedings, excess in exercise of arbitrator’s powers, and deprivation of constitutional rights. The Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court that in this case, the scope of review was extremely limited to addressing only the authority of the arbitration panel.
Faced with the legal issue of statutory interpretation (of Section 5302 (b)(2) of the State Employees’ Retirement Code), the Court identified its standard of review as de novo.
Finding the 2006 Pinto case (in which the Court interpreted Section 5302) more instructive than Kirsch, the Court concluded that the interest arbitration panel had authority to enter the award because the union leave provision did not require the Commonwealth to violate the statute. The Court then reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order, remanded the case, and relinquished jurisdiction.