An alleged ambiguity in the collective bargaining agreement concerning the applicability of a provision constitutes a matter of contract interpretation and is for the arbitrator to resolve
Board of Educ. of Yorktown Cent. Sch. Dist. v Yorktown Congress of Teachers, 2012 NY Slip Op 06023, Appellate Division, Second Department
Yorktown Central School District filed an Article 75 petition seeking a permanent stay arbitration of a claim by a teacher for approval of certain graduate credits for compensation pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. Supreme Court granted the school districts petition and the Yorktown Congress of Teachers appealed.
The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling “on the law” and directed that the parties proceed to arbitration.
The court noted that the relevant collective bargaining agreement included  an annex to the salary schedule providing for payments for approved graduate credits and  a “four-step grievance* procedure culminating in binding arbitration.”
The Appellate Division explained that in determining whether a dispute between a public sector employer and employee organization on behalf of an employee is arbitrable,** a court must first determine whether there is a statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance. If it finds no such prohibition against arbitration, the court must examine the parties' collective bargaining agreement to determine "whether the parties in fact agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute."
Finding that arbitration of the instant dispute was not prohibited by public policy or statute, including those provisions of the Education Law permitting any party aggrieved by a determination of a board of education to appeal to the Commissioner of Education nor by the power of a school board to manage the educational affairs of the school district, the Appellate Division found that there was a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the CBA – i.e., a claim for approval of graduate credits for compensation and the general subject matter of the CBA.
Noting that “some uncertainty exists as to whether the subject matter of the dispute is encompassed within the provision governing payments for approved graduate credits or the exclusion from arbitration of matters involving the Board's discretion,” the Appellate Division said that any alleged ambiguity in the CBA "regarding the coverage of any applicable provision is . . . a matter of contract interpretation for the arbitrator to resolve."
Accordingly, the Appellate Division granted the Youngstown Congress of Teacher’s cross petition to compel arbitration.
* In this instance the CBA defined a "grievance" as "any dispute or claim by either party . . . arising out of or in connection with this Agreement" other than matters that involved [a] the School Board's exercising its discretion, [b] a nonapproval of tenure decision; and [c] matters where a review was prescribed by law.
** Subject limited exceptions, as a general rule only the certified or recognized employee organization may demand arbitration of a grievance.
The decision is posted on the Internet at: