Texas Appeals Court Upholds San Antonio Evergreen Clause

The Texas Fourth Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of San Antonio Firefighters IAFF Local 624 in a battle of the validity of the “evergreen clause” in its collective bargaining agreement. The City of San Antonio sued the firefighters’ union seeking a declaratory judgment invalidating the provision.

An evergreen clause is a provision in a collective bargaining agreement that provides that the agreement will continue in effect until replaced by a successor agreement. The current agreement between Local 624 and the city expired on September 30, 2014, but included an evergreen clause that reads as follows:

Except as specifically provided herein, this Agreement shall be effective upon approval and signing by both parties. It shall remain in full force and effect until the 30th day of September, 2014 and shall continue in effect from year to year until replaced by a successor agreement or until terminated by mutual agreement. In no event shall this Agreement continue in effect after September 30, 2024.

Unable to reach an agreement, the City sought to have the evergreen clause declared unconstitutional under the debt limitations in sections 5 and 7 of article XI of the Texas Constitution or in the alternative that the CBA violates public policy. The city lost at trial and appealed the matter to the 4th Court of Appeals.

Summarizing the court’s holding:

We hold 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.” Moreover, the CBA includes a savings clause that states “no portion of [the CBA] or provision [t]herein shall become inoperative or fail by reason of the invalidity of any other portion or provision.” We also hold the CBA does not cede or improperly restrict the City’s governmental or legislative powers and does not violate public policy.

Here is a copy of the decision: San Antonio v San Antonio FFs

Here is news coverage of the decision explaining more about the politics that underlie the city’s position.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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