On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-2646-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes and J. N. Harris.
This appeal involves the arbitration of a public-sector labor dispute. Plaintiff Trenton Educational Secretaries Association (the Association) appeals from the Law Division's vacation of an arbitration award obtained against the Trenton Board of Education (the Board) and the court's concomitant refusal to confirm the award in the Association's favor. We reverse both prongs of the Law Division's determination and remand for the entry of a judgment confirming the arbitrator's award.
The events that are the subject of the parties' dispute occurred over a one-year span beginning in July 2007. At that time, the Association and the Board were contractually bound to the terms of a collectively negotiated agreement (the Agreement) that began on July 1, 2005, and ended on June 30, 2009.
Article 3 of the Agreement, entitled "Grievance Procedure," outlines a four-step procedure to resolve disputes over contractual interpretation, application, and violation. Step 4 of the process provides that parties who remain dissatisfied with the outcome of the previous steps are permitted to submit their grievance to an arbitral forum. The Agreement notes the following:
The decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding upon the parties and the arbitrator shall be selected from the American Arbitration Association and adhere to their [sic] rules and procedures. The arbitrator shall limit himself to the issue submitted to him and shall consider nothing else. He can add nothing to nor subtract anything from this Agreement.
Prior to July 2007, the registration of students in the Trenton school district was decentralized and conducted at local schools. The process, including interaction with students and their parents or guardians, was performed by secretaries assigned to such localities. In July 2007, the Board changed the way it administrated registrations by creating the Office of Central Registration.
Generally, local school secretaries were designated as Senior Secretaries or Administrative I Secretaries, and compensated pursuant to the Agreement's Salary Guides.*fn1 When the Office of Central Registration was created, the Board contemplated the cessation of all registration activities by secretaries at individual schools and the Board assigned two Administrative II Secretaries to perform the tasks necessary to that office.
However, on September 10, 2007, due to the large volume of work being performed at the newly-created Office of Central Registration, Dr. David S. Weathington, the Board's Assistant Superintendent, Division of Student Services, ordered local school-based secretaries to assist with the new-fangled registration process. He wrote a memorandum -- addressed to school principals and secretaries -- stating, in part, the following:
Due to the volume of work at central registration, I am asking you to input information into SASI*fn2 during the day hours effective immediately.
In compliance with Dr. Weathington's directive, several Senior Secretaries and Administrative I Secretaries worked to input data into the Board's SASI. Those secretaries were not paid the salary commensurate with an Administrative II Secretary even though it was claimed that the work they were now performing was that of the higher category of secretary.
On December 14, 2007, the Association filed its initial grievance against the Board seeking relief on behalf of "the school secretaries who have always done registrations in the schools and apparently should have been working in a higher category level of secretary." Specifically, the Association demanded that [s]ecretaries in the school district who have previously been doing registrations be compensated at the higher level of an Administrative [II] Secretary  on their step of the ...