Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The Texas Supreme Court requested that the City of San Antonio and the firefighter's union submit full briefs on the so-called evergreen lawsuit late last week.
"The request for briefs does not mean that the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case, however, the City has cleared the difficult first hurdle in the review process," according to a statement released by the City Saturday night.
In 2014, the City filed a lawsuit against the evergreen clause in the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association's contract that retains the contract's terms for 10 years if a new contract is not agreed upon. The current contract expired in 2014, but the evergreen clause allows the union to keep its healthcare benefits and other provisions through 2024.
The Bexar County District Court and Fourth Court of Appeals sided with the union in late 2015, and the City almost immediately appealed to the high court. Court-ordered mediation efforts were unsuccessful.
"The Evergreen provision binds the City to increasing and unsustainable health costs for uniformed employees through 2024," the City's release stated. "The City believes this obligation violates the Texas Constitution's prohibition against cities taking on unfunded debt."
The City and firefighters union have until the end of January to file their briefs, according to the Supreme Court's request.
Ricky J. Poole, a local attorney representing the fire union in this case, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
The City in 2014 simultaneously challenged the evergreen clause in the San Antonio Police Officers Association's contract. Prolonged, contentious negotiations resulted in a new contract featuring an eight-year evergreen clause and a healthcare option that would have some officer dependents pay premiums. The City then dropped its lawsuit in September 2016.
Uniformed employees in the fire union don't pay healthcare premiums for themselves or their dependents, a term that a health task force, under then-Mayor Julián Castro in 2014 found unsustainable amid rising healthcare costs. Click here to download the task force's presentation.
"While yesterday's request for full briefing is a positive development for the City from a litigation standpoint, the City continues to invite the Fire Union to start negotiating a [collective bargaining agreement] that is fair to both firefighters and the City," according to the release.
To read all the stories on the City and police/fire union negotiations in the Rivard Report archive, click here.