The City of San Antonio on Thursday dropped its unsuccessful lawsuit against the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, a lawsuit that the union gave as their reason for declining formal contract talks with the City, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The contract between the union and the city, which was approved in 2011, expired in 2014, but it included an Evergreen clause, which allow the terms to remain in force for a negotiated period of time, in this case for ten years. Since police officers and firefighters are not allowed to strike in Texas, Evergreen clauses are not uncommon in public safety agreements, so people will have a framework in place to cover salary, benefits, etc while a new contract is being negotiated.
The problem arose when City Manager Sheryl Sculley warned that the zero premium health benefits included in previous contracts had become unsustainable due to sharply higher healthcare costs, and said elimination of the valuable benefit would be a key demand of the City in talks fir a new contract.
The union, under President Chris Steele, balked, and using the Evergreen Clause, declined to reopen contract talks with the City, thereby maintaining the zero premium healthcare benefit which was part if the 2011 contract and was covered under the Evergreen.
At that point the City sued, claiming that the Evergreen Clause which the city itself had negotiated and signed, is illegal. The lawsuit was thrown out by a lower court, and the Texas Supreme Court declined to consider the case.
Mayor Nirenberg pointed out that the union repeatedly said negotiations would resume if the lawsuit were dropped.
He said now that the obstacle has been removed, its time for the two sides to begin serious bargaining.
The dispute led directly to approval of two if three charter amendments earlier this month, including one that will restrict the pay and benefits the City will be able to offer to attract a successor to Sculley. City officials said it was coincidence that the lawsuit was dropped on the same day Sculley announced her resignation.