Arbitration Award Challenge Under the Public Employees Relations Act
In State System of Higher Education, (Cheyney University) v. State Coll. Univ. Prof'l Ass'n (PSEA-NEA), 560 Pa. 135, 149-150, 743 A.2d 405, 413 (1999), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set forth the essence test standard for trial courts to follow in reviewing challenges to an arbitrator's award under the Public Employees Relations Act (PERA):
There is a strong presumption that the Legislature and the parties intended for an arbitrator to be the judge of disputes under a collective bargaining agreement.
That being the case, courts must accord great deference to the award of the arbitrator chosen by the parties. ...
The arbitrator's award must draw its essence from the collective bargaining agreement. ... First, the court shall determine if the issue as properly defined is within the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
Second, if the issue is embraced by the agreement, and thus, appropriately before the arbitrator, the arbitrator's award will be upheld if the arbitrator's interpretation can rationally be derived from the collective bargaining agreement.
That is to say, a court will only vacate an arbitrator's award where the award indisputably and genuinely is without foundation in, or fails to logically flow from, the collective bargaining agreement. See Office of Attorney General v. Council 13, American Fed'n of State, County & Mun. Employees, 577 Pa. 257, 844 A.2d 1217 (2004) (holding that strict adherence to the essence test is mandated by strong historical preference for swift and efficient means of settling disputes under a collective bargaining agreement by grievance procedures culminating in binding arbitration). See also Somerset Area School District v. Somerset Area Educ. Ass'n, 899 A.2d 1170 (Pa. Cmwlth.), appeal denied, 589 Pa. 735, 909 A.2d 307 (2006) (reiterating limited nature of essence test review).
Moreover, limited judicial review under the essence test applies not only to an arbitration award but to the determination by an arbitrator of his or her jurisdiction as well. Juniata-Mifflin Counties Area Vocational-Technical School v. Corbin, 547 Pa. 495, 691 A.2d 924 (1997).