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Bd. of Trustees v. College Teachers Union





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Raymond K. Berg, Judge, presiding.


This action, brought by the board of trustees of Community College District No. 508 (plaintiff) in the circuit court of Cook County, sought to declare void and unenforceable an arbitration award which was rendered pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement with the Cook County College Teachers Union, Local 1600, AFT, AFL/CIO (defendant). The effect of the arbitrator's award, plaintiff alleged, was to give priority in the assignment of extra work to those faculty members who had participated in an illegal strike. The trial court issued a declaratory judgment and injunction in favor of plaintiff and ruled that the arbitrator's award was null and void because it required plaintiff to perform "an act illegal and contrary to public policy." The appellate court, in a majority decision, reversed. (55 Ill. App.3d 435.) It held that the issue of extra-work assignments was arbitrable and that the arbitrator's determination was, therefore, binding upon the parties to the collective bargaining agreement. We granted plaintiff leave to appeal.

Plaintiff operates the city colleges of Chicago, a system of seven junior colleges within the city of Chicago. Since 1967, defendant has been the bargaining representative of the full-time faculty members employed by plaintiff. During the summer and fall of 1975, the parties were engaged in collective bargaining negotiations over what ultimately became a two-year collective bargaining agreement, which agreement remained in effect until June 30, 1977. The fall semester of the 1975-76 school year was to have begun on August 19, 1975, but because the parties could not reach an agreement by that date, a strike ensued. Approximately 90% of plaintiff's faculty refused to cross the picket line. The remaining 10% of the teaching personnel crossed the picket line and reported to work each day of the strike. On August 25, 1975, the circuit court of Cook County ordered that the strike be terminated on the grounds that such strikes by public employees were illegal and contrary to public policy. In contravention of the court's injunction, 90% of the faculty continued to participate in the illegal strike. The strike endured for a total of three weeks.

Because of the strike, plaintiff extended the fall semester two weeks beyond the original termination date. The teachers who participated in the strike received no pay for the three-week strike period during which they did not work. The nonstriking teachers were paid their regular salaries for working the duration of the strike. Both the striking and nonstriking teachers received prorated salaries for the two-week period which extended beyond the originally scheduled semester. Consequently, the striking teachers received one week of pay less than their expected base salaries for the fall semester, and the nonstriking teachers received two weeks of pay in excess of their base salaries for the same period. This income disparity is at the source of the controversy between the parties.

In January 1976, shortly after the extended fall semester terminated, a dispute erupted between the parties as to the assignment of extra work to the faculty for the 1976 summer session. The parties, having recognized that such assignments entitled qualified faculty members to additional pay, incorporated into their collective bargaining agreement a rotational point system by which such assignments could be made in a manner that would equalize the extra-work opportunities for all qualified teachers. Rotation points were to be computed according to the following formula:

"[O]ne rotation point for each 12 1/2% of extra pay above a faculty member's base rate of pay."

The term "base rate of pay" was not defined in the agreement. The collective bargaining agreement also provided:

"The number of points based on the amount of extra work assigned in the past will determine the eligibility of the faculty member for extra work, with those who have the fewest number of points having priority."

Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, plaintiff, in January 1976, prepared a salary list which was to be used in the computation of rotation points and which, in turn, would be used in the assignment of extra work for the 1976 summer session. The salary list was to include "all pay earned by each faculty member" through the end of the preceding semester. The dispute ensued when plaintiff failed to include the pay earned by the nonstriking teachers during the three-week strike period. On January 21, 1976, defendant presented its grievance to plaintiff as provided for in the collective bargaining agreement. When plaintiff denied the grievance, defendant submitted the case to arbitration. The collective bargaining agreement provided that defendant was entitled to submit any unresolved grievance, which involved the application or interpretation of the agreement, to the single arbitrator appointed mutually by the parties.

Defendant argued before the arbitrator that the collective bargaining agreement expressly provided that the salary lists were to include all pay earned during the fall semester and that there was no basis upon which to exclude the pay earned during the three-week strike period. By defendant's interpretation, the nonstriking teachers, in effect, would have earned two weeks of "extra pay" above their expected base pay for the semester, and, consequently, would be in an inferior position vis-a-vis striking teachers with regard to the assignment of extra work. Plaintiff maintained that the income earned by the nonstrikers during the strike period derived from their regular work assignments, not from extra work, which, it argued, was the only basis upon which eligibility for future extra work was to be determined. Plaintiff also contended that defendant's construction, which would result in treatment preferential to illegal strikers, was contrary to law and therefore unenforceable. Following a hearing, expedited at the request of plaintiff, the arbitrator ruled in favor of defendant. In interpreting the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, the arbitrator found that its terms clearly provided that rotation points be based on all income earned by faculty members in excess of their expected base pay, and that the terms admitted of no qualifications or exceptions for earnings during strike periods. The arbitrator also concluded that the construction adopted did not violate any law.

Because plaintiff has advocated numerous grounds for vacating the arbitrator's decision and because we find only one of them persuasive, it is appropriate that we clarify at the outset the very limited scope of review reserved by courts> when asked to vacate arbitration awards.

This court has long recognized the overriding interest in finality which inheres in the submission of disputes to arbitration, and, accordingly, has counseled against judicial review of the merits of arbitration awards. (White Star Mining Co. v. Hultberg (1906), 220 Ill. 578; Stone v. Baldwin (1907), 226 Ill. 338.) That this general standard, applicable to both labor and nonlabor arbitration, has been even more narrowly circumscribed in reviewing collective bargaining agreements is evident in the series of seminal Supreme Court decisions often referred to as the Steelworkers Trilogy. Therein, the court stated:

"In our role of developing a meaningful body of law to govern the interpretation and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements, we think special heed should be given to the context in which collective bargaining agreements are negotiated and the purpose which they are intended to serve. [Citation.] The function of the court is very limited when the parties have agreed to submit all questions of contract interpretation to the arbitrator." (United ...

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