On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Morris County, Docket No. C-142-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 11, 2012
Before Judges Yannotti and Hoffman.
Plaintiff Education Association of Mount Olive (Association) appeals from the Law Division order entered on December 5, 2011, denying its motion to vacate an arbitration award in favor of defendant Mount Olive Board of Education (Board). We affirm.
The relevant facts are not in dispute. The Board and the Association are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (Agreement) covering the period July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011. Pertinent to this case, the Agreement provided that the work year for teachers shall include 1 opening day, 180 student days, and 2 full-length in-service days.
The contract also stated, "[t]he last two scheduled student days of school will be shortened days." This language has been present in the parties' agreements dating back an indeterminate number of years. During this time, teachers consistently worked full days on the last two scheduled student days and never challenged this requirement.
When the Board issued the calendar for the 2010-2011 school year, the Association filed a grievance challenging the calendar because it indicated that the last two student days would be shortened days for students only.
The matter proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator determined that the relevant section of the Agreement was ambiguous and therefore considered the parties' past practice, which indicated that the last two student days had always been half days for students only. He concluded that there was no indication the parties intended to change this practice when they entered into the Agreement. In light of the subject paragraph's ambiguity, the arbitrator considered the parties' long-standing past practice and found same to be controlling. Accordingly, the arbitrator denied the grievance.
The Association then filed an order to show cause in the Chancery Division, seeking reversal of the arbitrator's award.
R. 4:67-6. The Association argued that the relevant provision of the Agreement was not reasonably debatable, and the arbitrator should not have considered the parties' past practice in determining the meaning of that provision. The Association argued the Agreement requires that teachers have a shortened day on the last two school days. The trial court rejected these arguments.
In Board of Education of Borough of Alpha, Warren County v. Alpha Education Association, 190 N.J. 34, 41-42 (2006), Justice Wallace summarized the general principles that guide our review of arbitration decisions:
Arbitration is a favored means of resolving labor disputes. State v. Int'l Fed'n of Prof'l & Technical Eng'rs, Local 195, 169 N.J. 505, 513 (2001) (citing County Coll. of Morris Staff Ass'n v. County Coll. of Morris, 100 N.J. 383, 390 (1985)); Scotch Plains-Fanwood Bd. of Educ. v. Scotch Plains-Fanwood Educ. Ass'n, 139 N.J. 141, 149 (1995). The aim of arbitration is to provide the final disposition of a dispute in a speedy and inexpensive manner. Barcon Assocs., Inc. v. Tri-County Asphalt Corp., 86 N.J. 179, 187 (1981). Accordingly, judicial review of an arbitrator's decision is very limited, and the arbitrator's decision is not to be cast aside lightly.
Ibid. "In the public sector, the scope of review in matters of interpretation is confined to determining whether the interpretation of the contractual language is reasonably debatable." County ...