Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James
C. Murray, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE MCNAMARA DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Plaintiff, Board of Education of the Posen-Robbins School District No. 143 1/2 (Board), filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment to vacate an arbitration award on the grounds that it was based on gross errors of fact and law, and that the arbitrator's decision was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. The trial court considered defendants' motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and entered judgment for defendants, finding that the arbitration award should not be disturbed. The Board appeals.
The initial dispute arose from defendants' objection to the Board's interpretation of a provision of article V, paragraph 17 of their collective bargaining agreement. That provision provided in pertinent part:
"That commencing with the school year September 1, 1973, each teacher shall, every five-year period thereafter, be required to pursue additional academic training at either graduate or undergraduate level, earning within said period a minimum of six (6) credit hours. Upon failing to comply with said provision, the teacher shall be barred from any annual increments otherwise payable on the salary schedule as adopted from time to time.
That all lateral moves on the salary schedule shall be in accordance with a plan of instruction previously approved by the Superintendent of Schools of the District. No lateral movement on the salary schedule shall be recognized or compensated unless this condition has been met."
In a letter dated August 22, 1978, the Board announced its intent to impose the sanction provided in paragraph 17 against 28 teachers who had failed to pursue the additional academic training required by that provision. The Board interpreted the provision as allowing it to freeze the salaries of the 28 teachers so that they received the same salaries in the 1978-79 school year that they had received in the 1977-78 school year.
In June 1979, the 28 teachers affected by the salary freeze first filed their grievances. Only the defendant teachers continued to the later grievance stages. The Board denied the grievances, finding that they were not timely filed and that the sanctions were appropriate in light of the grievants' failure to pursue the additional academic training required by paragraph 17. The matter proceeded to arbitration as provided by the collective bargaining agreement.
At issue in the arbitration were the timeliness of the filing of the grievances and the meaning of the word "increments" as it appeared in paragraph 17. Defendants maintained that the sanction was intended to freeze the status of the non-complying teacher on the salary schedule, thus denying that teacher all lateral step increases based on additional education or years of service, while still affording such teacher any across the board salary increase which would affect the schedule as a whole. The Board countered that it had been correct in precluding each non-complying teacher from any and all salary increases, thereby freezing the salary itself at its present dollar amount.
In ruling in favor of defendants, the arbitrator determined that the Board had improperly frozen the teachers' salaries. As to the timeliness of the grievances, the arbitrator found that although the official grievances were not formally filed until June 1979, the Board was aware of the existence of the grievances from the time its interpretation was applied in the fall of 1978. Furthermore, the Board's improper application of the language was of a continuous nature. The arbitrator thus concluded that the grievances were properly before him and ordered that the grievants be made whole for losses incurred as a result of the Board's improper action. The trial court upheld that award and this appeal follows.
We first address the Board's contention that the trial court erred in failing to vacate that portion of the award which determined that the teachers were entitled to a salary increase. Specifically the Board argues that the arbitrator's interpretation of the word "increments," as it appears in paragraph 17, was based on gross errors of law and was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. The Board asserts further that it was denied its right to judicial review as provided in the collective bargaining agreement because the trial court exercised undue restraint in its review of the arbitrator's interpretation of the language of that agreement.
• 1 The courts> have long recognized the overriding interest in finality inherent in the submission of a dispute to arbitration. (White Star Mining Co. v. Hultberg (1906), 220 Ill. 578, 77 N.E. 327.) The interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement is a function of the arbitrator. It is the arbitrator's construction which was bargained for and the courts> will not overrule that construction simply because their own interpretation differs from that of the arbitrator. (Board of Trustees v. Cook County College Teachers Union, Local 1600 (1979), 74 Ill.2d 412, 386 N.E.2d 47.) Accordingly, a court will review an arbitrator's contract interpretation only to determine whether the award drew its essence from the agreement so as to prevent a manifest disregard of that agreement. Board of Trustees v. Cook County College Teachers Union, Local 1600.
The Board maintains, however, that due to a provision in their collective bargaining agreement, review of the award should not be limited by the general rule of restraint normally applicable to review of arbitration awards. Article IV A 3 of the agreement provides that any unresolved disputes between the parties are to be settled by arbitration. Although the agreement recites that "[t]he Board and the Union will abide in good faith with the decision of the arbitrator to the extent permitted by law," it provides further that:
"The Union shall have no right to appeal from the decision of the Arbitration. The School Board has the right to appeal from the decision of the Arbitrator, and should they do so, the Union shall have no right to appeal from the Trial Court decision, but the School Board may do so if they so desire."
• 2 Relying on language in White Star Mining Co. v. Hultberg (1906), 220 Ill. 578, 77 N.E. 327, and Aldrich v. Aldrich (1931), 260 Ill. App. 333, the board argues that the above provision entitles it to full judicial review. In White Star Mining, while exercising the restraint normally required when reviewing an arbitration award, the court alluded to a possible exception to this general principle where the contract contains an express intention to the contrary. Similarly in Aldrich the court referred to such a possible exception when it found mutuality in a contract even though the contract provided that one party had agreed to be bound absolutely by arbitration while the second party agreed to be bound only after court approval. Absent from both decisions, however, is any guidance as to what scope of review the exception might warrant. Nor does the provision in question here specify that ...