SAN ANTONIO – A new twist in the yearslong saga between the city and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association came Friday when the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the lawsuit the city filed against the union challenging the evergreen clause in the contract between the two, which expired in 2014.
The city and the union have yet to meet at the negotiating table, despite the city’s invitations to the union.
SAPFFA President Chris Steele has repeatedly said that the union will not negotiate as long as it is being sued by the city.
Reacting to the city’s legal loss Friday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the following in a statement issued by the city:
“We aren’t going to waste time looking back. 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. We must remember that we are at this point due to the shortsighted decisions of the past. I’m committed to making sure that the City’s future contracts with police officers and firefighters are fair to all involved, are legal and done right.”
A union spokesperson categorized the court’s decision as a win Friday, but questions about whether the union is now ready to negotiate with the city remain unclear.
Steele released the following statement about the decision:
"We want to thank the Texas Supreme Court for their decision to not hear the City’s lawsuit appeal. We must also acknowledge the men and women of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Union Local 624 who have stood with our leadership during the relentless lawsuits and attacks on our family. Their loyalty and trust in our legal battle has made me proud to be a member of this Union. I am grateful for their support
"The Supreme Court’s decision is total vindication for our position which two courts have already ruled in our favor. From the beginning, we have said loud and clear the City’s Evergreen lawsuit was a waste of time and taxpayer money. Every Court that heard the lawsuit has agreed and today’s ruling should end the Evergreen discussion once and for all.
"Our family and leadership will take some time now to gauge our next steps. The city manager is not concerned with right and wrong or the fact that duly elected impartial judges have agreed with us. She has a mission to exercise total control over a city she is not from and does not understand. A city is not a corporation that has to pay out dividends to shareholders; but a place where People come before profits or bonuses. It is a place where Texas citizens have the right to decide their priorities, not an unelected out of town bureaucrat trying to collect a windfall bonus. Even with this being said, we understand the need to negotiate and find the best contract for our Members and be fiscally responsible. We also want to protect the citizens of San Antonio and their rights and tax dollars. That is why we joined the San Antonio First Campaign and petition movement to put the power back into the hands of the citizens. As you can see by this waste of 3 years and millions of dollars, the City Manager and Mayor need oversight and accountability.
We will evaluate our position and discuss our next steps with the Membership. Until then, we are grateful to all who have stood with us during this long journey. It isn’t over yet; we have much more work to do."
The evergreen clause in the contract between the union and the city allows the terms of the contract to remain until 2024.
The city claimed the clause was unconstitutional, but a district court judge disagreed, leading the city to file an appeal.
Steele has pointed to the fact that the city entered into the contract agreeing to the terms of the deal.
Under that deal, firefighters do not pay health care costs for themselves or their dependents. The city argues that is a cost it cannot continue to afford.
“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 in a written statement. “The union has used the 10-year evergreen clause to avoid having the conversation about whether their benefits are sustainable and affordable to taxpayers. Now that the legal challenge is over, there is no reason for the union not to come to the table. We remain ready and willing to negotiate.”