Collective Bargaining Agreement Can Trump State Disability Law

The City of Coatesville, Pennsylvania falls in the category of a Third Class City under Pennsylvania law. The Third Class City Code requires cities to provide their police officers with a 50 percent in-service disability pension.

Notwithstanding the provisions of the Code, the collective bargaining agreement between the City and the Coatesville Police Officers’ Benevolent Association (PBA) called for a disability retirement that varied depending upon the number of years of service.

David Norcini, a Coatesville police officer, suffered a permanent knee injury in the course of his employment. Under the formula contained in the collective bargaining agreement, Norcini received a disability benefit of only 12.5 percent. He sued, claiming that the City had an obligation to provide the 50 percent disability pension called for under the Code.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court disagreed with Norcini. The Court found that as a member of the PBA’s bargaining unit, Norcini was bound by the results negotiated by the PBA, and could not “selectively choose or reject aspects of the negotiated agreement as he would wish.” The Court cited an earlier decision involving a binding arbitration decision, where the Court upheld an arbitrator’s award that called for a less-generous retirement formula then would normally be the case under the retirement code.

The Court also observed that “parties may not avoid limitations in a collective bargaining agreement, claiming it conflicted with the law, after they voluntarily negotiated and agreed to the contracted provisions. To permit an employer to enter into agreements and include terms which raise the expectations of those concerned, and then to subsequently refuse to abide by those provisions on the basis of its lack of capacity would invite discord and distrust and create an atmosphere wherein a harmonious relationship would virtually be impossible to maintain. Good faith bargaining would require the questions as to the legality of the proposed terms of the collective bargaining agreement should be resolved by the parties to the agreement at the bargaining stage.”

Norcini v. City of Coatesville, 2006 WL 3925265 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2007).