Fire Union Says 'City Can Ask 800 Times,' Wont Talk While Lawsuit Pending

San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele says his union will not open negotiations with the City on a new contract, until the City drops its two and a half year old lawsuit challenging the legality of the 'Evergreen Clause' which allows the fire union to refuse to bargain, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

"If you drop the lawsuit, I'll go," Steele said.  "I've won it twice, and we're prepared to take it the distance."Steele and the SAPFFA attorney were no-shows when City negotiators gathered at City Hall Tuesday to resume negotiations, which have been stalled for two years.

The 'Evergreen Clause' calls for the terms of the contract that was signed in 2011 to continue in force for ten years after the contract expired, or until 2024.

Evergreen clauses are not unusual in public safety negotiations, in fact, previous contracts between the City of San Antonio and the SAPFFA have included the clauses.  They protect public safety union members who are not allowed under Texas law to strike, assuring them that they will continue to receive their pay and benefits while a new contract is being negotiated.

But the SAPFFA is using the Evergreen Clause to avoid having to deal with the demand of City Manager Sheryl Sculley that the union accept the end of what is now an unheard-of benefit.  No firefighter has to pay any premiums for his or her health insurance or insurance for dependants.

Sculley says that provision is causing major financial problems for the City, as the costs of health care coverage increase.

The City says it has invited the union twelve times to sit down at the bargaining table.

"The City could ask me 800 times and it would get the same answer," Steele said.  "And I think a female would take offense if you asked her 800 times to go out."

The City's lawsuit has filed at the trial court and appeals court levels, and City officials expect it will take another year for a final ruling to come from the Texas Supreme Court.

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