City of San Antonio Drops Lawsuit Against Fire Union Contract’s Evergreen Clause

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San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele responds to reporters questions.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele

The City of San Antonio on Thursday formally dropped its lawsuit challenging an evergreen clause in the firefighters union contract, according to City documents. The union has cited the lawsuit as its reason for refusing to negotiate with the City on a new labor agreement.

"By dropping the lawsuit, the City is demonstrating its intent to take a positive step that will hopefully result in productive discussions and mutually agreed upon terms for a new [collective bargaining agreement] as soon as possible," City Attorney Andy Segovia wrote in a letter to union attorney Ricky Poole.

Segovia asked the firefighters union for a list of dates and times over the coming weeks to arrange negotiations "with the help of a mediator." The City suggested that former Texas Supreme Court Justice Deborah Hankinson, who served as mediator for the court-ordered sessions that broke down last year, assume that role again. The firefighters' contract expired in 2014 and firefighters have continued to work under its terms due to the evergreen clause.

"Firefighters union leaders have made it clear that they viewed the city’s lawsuit as the last remaining obstacle before negotiations could begin," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement. "We have now removed the obstacle and look forward to putting our conflict behind us and getting a new agreement that is fair to firefighters and taxpayers."

The move came hours after City Manager Sheryl Sculley announced she was retiring from the job she has held for 13 years.

On the heels of its election victory on Nov. 6, when voters approved the union's charter amendment that grants them the power to unilaterally call for an impasse in contract negotiations, the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association representatives said it would drop its countersuit and return to the table only after the City's case was completely dropped.

"If they drop the lawsuit we will be at the table within seven days," union President Chris Steele said in March, adding that he would agree to meet the day after the City drops it. In June, the Texas Supreme Court chose not to hear an appeal from the City that could have overturned a lower court's rejection of the City's request for summary judgment.

Steele did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, and a union spokesman declined to comment.

"Yes, the City made the right move," said Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) who worked for the police and fire union prior to becoming a Council member and will likely run for mayor. "We should get back to negotiating and finalizing this once and for all. It [should] have never come to this, but we have a chance to make it right."

The fire union, however, might not want to go back into mediation, Brockhouse added, the two sides should just "get back to the negotiation table."

The lawsuit, filed nearly two months after the union's contract expired, challenges the constitutionality of the union contract's 10-year evergreen clause that keeps the terms of the expired contract in place for 10 years or until a new agreement is reached. The police union agreed to a new contract with the City in 2016 after embittered negotiations that included an eight-year evergreen clause. The City dropped its separate lawsuit against the police union's clause when a deal was reached.

Also approved by voters earlier this month, with a solid margin, was a measure that capped the compensation and tenure of future city managers, a proposition widely viewed to be aimed at Sculley, although she was not subject to its provisions. The firefighters union spearheaded the petition drive to place the propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot.

13 thoughts on “City of San Antonio Drops Lawsuit Against Fire Union Contract’s Evergreen Clause

    • Agreed! I’m a big fan of the Rivard Report and y’all tend to lean towards the same opinions I have but I not looking for a “yes man” in my news stories. This whole contract issue is about money…saving it! So how much money was lost in a lawsuit that didn’t play out fully and which I think wasn’t needed anyway?

  1. Equal speech media? Yes, I have said it before. Business as usual in crypt San Antonio is about to be over! Please explain exactly why this lawsuit is suddenly being dropped the same day the city manager resigns??

  2. The City of San Antonio wasted a lot of our money thanks to Sheryl Sculley.
    As a result the union won two of three proposed City Charter Amendments and Sculley is “retiring.”
    Both sides need to get back to contract negotiations.

  3. Nirenberg could have solved this problem when he took office. So much for his leadership. Hopefully there will be a new Mayor at City Hall next year as well as new City Manager.

  4. People! People! People! The Fire Union now needs to make the decision to negotiate a CBA with the COSA with out delay. Remember, WE the citizens pay the Public Safety servants. Myself, I would be surprised if negotiation began before May municipal election. Anyway, I will say again, let evergreen clause run its course, then Start Fresh. The pay / benefits of current CBA are still in effect; We just need projections for using existing CBA through 2024 and new Fire Safety contract. Think County Fire Department.

    • So you’re proposing that the city not negotiate for a new contract for another 6 years, freezing benefits and wages for the 10 year duration of the evergreen, and then when the evergreen runs out start from square one? And then offer lower pay and benefits to match that of the county, who serves far fewer people and makes far fewer runs than SAFD?

      • Now you are on Track! Current Fire Union contract providing pay/retirement/health benefits that are 66% (General Fund budget?). Then Start Fresh, unless, before hand, both sides come to CBA agreement that is fiscally sustainable for Future of COSA. HINT- 10 year evergreen clause is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

  5. The firefighters union hasn’t been productive with the negotiating. Plus think about just how much money we are paying for the 100% funded firefighter benefits. They are supposed to be serving and protecting the citizens of San Antonio. How is them screwi g the City financially into the ground helpful for us.
    The Police Union was able to negotiate and help contribute to the benefits they receive.
    With increased costs the City can’t afford to keep paying 100%. It is our taxpaying money that was being wasted by both the Union and the lawsuits.

  6. Oh and the bond rating is going to be hurt based on these increased costs associated with continuing to pay 100%. Way to go citizens for passing this without all of the knowledge behind the outcome.

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