The Texas Supreme Court today formally ended the four year old lawsuit filed by the City of San Antonio which challenged the legality of the 'Evergreen Clause' in the City's 2011 contract with the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The justices declined to consider the City's appeal of lower court rulings dismissing the lawsuit, which means it is now dead.
“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court will not hear the case, but we believe the legal challenge was a necessary result of the union’s unwillingness to negotiate for more than four years,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley said.
The Evergreen Clause allowed the terms of the contract to remain in force for ten years after the contract expired in September of 2014. The firefighters union used the clause to decline to open negoitations for a new contract, because the city wants the union to accept changes to their health insurance benefits, which allows most of the union members to pay zero premiums for their and their family's health insurance.
Sculley has argued that in order to keep public safety costs from ballooning and 'crowding out' general fund money for all other purposes, the rising costs of health insurance have to be shared by the firefighters, like other City employees and the vast majority of all workers have to pay a portion of their health care costs.
Evergreen clauses are not unusual in public safety contracts, because they protect both the workers and the municipality if the contract expires while negotiations remain underway. It is also illegal for public safety workers in Texas to strike.
Mayor Nirenberg pointed out that the SAPFFA has always used the fact that it is being used by the City as the reason why it has declined to begin contract talks.
“Union leaders have said the lawsuit was the roadblock to negotiations. Now that it is over, they should come to the table. The public deserves good faith negotiations," he said.
The City has offered caps on the amount of premiums the firefighters will have to pay, as well as the ability to continue to pay no premiums on their own personal health coverage, pointing out that the union members are foregoing raises which they will not only not receive now, but which would boost the pension benefits they will receive when they retire.
“We are disappointed that the Texas Supreme Court chose not to hear the case,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said. “With the 10-year automatic ‘evergreen’ extension in their current contract, the fire union has shown no willingness to negotiate in good faith a new contract that is fair to their members and affordable to our taxpayers. Consequently, a provision that usually facilitates negotiation has effectively foreclosed it.”