Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 00 CH 7267 Honorable Aaron Jaffe, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Reid
Following the entry of an arbitration award, the City of Northlake (Northlake) filed a petition to vacate in the circuit court of Cook County. Both parties then filed motions for summary judgment. The circuit court reversed the decision of the arbitrator. The arbitrator's award sustained several grievances contesting the amount of sick leave paid to the police officers upon separation from employment. The trial court vacated the arbitrator's award, holding that the arbitrator exceeded his authority.
Following the reversal by the trial court, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, Lodge 18 (Union), filed the instant appeal, seeking to reverse the circuit court's order and confirm the arbitration award pursuant to the Uniform Arbitration Act (710 ILCS 5/1 et seq. (West 2000)). For the reasons that follow, we reverse the decision of the trial court and reinstate the award of the arbitrator.
Northlake is a public employer under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/3(o), 20 (b) (West 2000)) (Act). Police employment is controlled by a collective bargaining agreement between the parties. The collective bargaining agreement (agreement) was negotiated pursuant to the Act. By the terms of the agreement between the parties, the Union is the exclusive bargaining representative for all sworn police officers below the rank of assistant chief employed by Northlake. The agreement contains a grievance procedure culminating in final and binding arbitration, as mandated by the Act.
In the instant matter, grievances were filed by the Union on behalf six retired officers and one officer who left employment in good standing prior to reaching retirement age. Those police officers claim Northlake neglected to properly pay out their accumulated sick leave when they left their employment. The accumulated sick leave payout is governed by section 18.1 of the agreement, which reads as follows:
"Sick leave shall only be used for the purpose for which it was intended, that being, to provide an employee protection against loss of pay due to illness. Sick leave may not be converted into any other forms of compensation. Accrued, unused sick leave will be forfeited, provided however, that employees who shall have ninety (90) or more days of accumulated sick leave, and who shall separate in good standing with the Employer, upon separation will be paid at their regular salary rate in a lump sum for all such accumulated leave up to a maximum of the equivalent of three (3) months pay. Therefore, it shall be required that thirty (30) days of accumulated sick leave be used for each one (1) month's equivalent pay. If an employee has less than ninety (90) days accumulated sick leave, he shall receive a prorated one-thirtieth (1/30th) of one month's pay for each day of accumulated sick leave existing at that time." (Emphasis added.)
All of the police officers in question had 90 days of accumulated sick leave and left their employment in good standing. When they left employment, Northlake paid them based upon a month's pay being a fraction of their annual wage. Northlake took the position that it is only required to pay 60 days of salary, which it views as the equivalent of two months' pay. Northlake arrived at this figure for two months of salary by dividing the annual salary by 12 and multiplying that amount by 3. Even though it could be argued that there are only 20 working days in a calendar month, Northlake stands firm that employee salary is calculated based upon an annual wage. The Union argues that a month is 20 working days for purposes of calculating the value of this type of sick leave.
The Union claims the parties resolved their grievances on May 28, 1998, at which time the Union and Northlake agreed that the employees would receive day-for-day pay, up to 90 days of their accumulated sick leave. The parties signed off on their agreement, using the following language:
"INTENT - 90 days of pay is equal to three (3) months of full pay, NOT sixty (60) days pay (as claimed in the pending grievance)."
The Union contends that, even though the above language was agreed to by both parties after the fact, it indicates Northlake's understanding and agreement to pay the officers the additional 30 days of full pay. The police officers claimed both the chief and assistant chief, in separate conversations, confirmed that this was the new understanding.
Northlake disputes the Union's claim that the parties resolved the dispute by signing a tentative agreement to a successor contract. Northlake claims the "intent" paragraph, which was not incorporated into a successor contract, includes a number of agreements made at the bargaining table after the contract at issue had expired. Northlake explains in its brief that the tentative agreement was negotiated for a new, subsequent contract which is not at issue in these proceedings. Northlake steadfastly refuses to disregard the traditional calendar and accept that a month is 20 days. Northlake also denies that it agreed to pay any additional amounts beyond those that the employees already received. Northlake further denies that the chief and assistant chief ever had conversations with anyone wherein Northlake agreed to pay more money.
Per the collective bargaining agreement, the matter was subsequently referred to binding arbitration. The arbitrator's award sustained several grievances contesting the amount of sick leave paid to the police officers upon separation from employment. The arbitrator considered the tentative agreement and concluded that the collective bargaining agreement should be interpreted along the lines of the Union's claim, that the agreement in force and effect constitutes a promise to pay the grievants on a day-for-day basis. As a result, the ...