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Appeals Court Sides With Fire Union In City Contract Dispute

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
File Photo: The San Antonio Police and Fire Unions gather in front of city hall for campaign endorsements.

The San Antonio Professional Fire Fighter’s Association scored an appeal victory this morning. Judge Luz Elena Chapa of the Fourth Court of Appeals ruled an evergreen provision in the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the City of San Antonio does not violate the Texas Constitution.

The city argued the evergreen clause violates debt limitations in the Texas Constitution.  In the ruling, Chapa writes the city failed to “establish as a matter of law that the evergreen clause or the CBA as a whole is void or violates public policy.”

We conclude the evergreen clause merely extends the duration of the CBA, but standing alone does not create a “debt.” The CBA as a whole is not unconstitutional on the ground asserted by the City because it contains significant provisions that, even as extended by the evergreen clause, do not create unconstitutional “debt.”

The fire union’s contract expired in 2014 but the contract’s evergreen clause allows it to continue through 2024 until a new one is signed. The city argues the insurance costs in the contract are growing too high. The city sued the union shortly after the contract expired and lost in district court as well.

The City says the fire union has not accepted any requests to come to the bargaining table.  San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg adds the evergreen clause reduces any incentive for the union to negotiate.

“Our city, under my instruction, will continue to be ready in good faith to negotiate a contract that achieves that structural balance that is fair, that is competitive, and that allows us to grows the resources in the fire department that are going to necessary for us to keep with the pace of growth of the city,” he said.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley says she will recommend to the city council that the city should file an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court.

District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse disagrees with the city’s push to continue the suit. “Including the lawsuit against the Police Officer’s Association, the City has now lost on this issue three times in Court and wasted almost a million taxpayer dollars doing so. The full City Council should review this course of action and go on the record in a public vote on continuing the lawsuit to the Texas Supreme Court,” he said in a statement.

Before being elected to the San Antonio City Council, Brockhouse often worked with the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association during its collective bargaining agreement negotiations. He says the city should drop its suit and return to negotiations.

The union has claimed in the past it will come to the bargaining table within 30 days of the city dropping its lawsuit. After Wednesday’s ruling, the union now says it would come to the table within seven days if the suit is dropped.

This story has been updated since its original posting to include a response from the fire union.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules