HARRISBURG — The state Supreme Court on Oct. 18 found that arbitration is appropriate in a dispute over a pension paid to the wife of a deceased police officer and the city of Arnold.
Pamela Cimino, the widow of Officer Thomas J. Cimino, sued the city of Arnold for cutting the pension she had been receiving since her husband's death.
She claimed the reduction, which dropped the monthly payout from $1,494.11 to $974.56, was in violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Police Union and the city. Cimino also took issue with the city demanding she repay the pension it believed was misappropriated to her.
The union, after trying to negotiate with the city, pursued grievance arbitration, according to court documents. The arbitrator, Gregory Gleason, reinstated the pension to $1,494.11.
Central to the case was whether the dispute could actually be arbitrated. The city claimed it could not and appealed to have the award vacated in state court.
The city’s primary argument was that the spouse’s benefit was not derivative of the decedent’s benefit under the CBA and was therefore not subject to the arbitration clause.
The state Supreme Court has voided this argument, stating that the survivor benefit was incorporated into the CBA.
The court cited the express phrasing of the CBA as supporting evidence. Despite the fact the spousal benefit was not explicitly mentioned in the agreement, the court found the language to be broad and inclusive.
“As previously stated, the court has decided that the scope of section 1’s collective bargaining mandate is broad, including any matter ‘rationally related’ to the ‘terms and conditions of employment,’ such as pension benefits,” Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy’s opinion read.
Furthermore, the court said that spousal benefits were incorporated into the language of the agreement through an earlier ordinance. This rendered irrelevant the fact the claim was derived from a statute, one of the city's main arguments for why arbitration was inappropriate.
Justice Thomas G. Saylor concurred in his opinion, finding arbitration and reinstatement of the pension appropriate. However, Saylor found the court’s analysis to be too centered on the language of the state statute and not focused enough on the language of the agreement itself.