In November 2016, the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals ordered mediation in an attempt to have the City and fire union reach agreement with respect to the evergreen lawsuit and issues related to the collective bargaining process, including negotiation of a new fire union contract. Mediation began on Jan. 13, 2017 and was subject to confidentiality by both parties.
During the mediated sessions, the fire union essentially requested a healthcare check for $35 million per year – with guaranteed increases of 10% every year – in order to manage a healthcare trust with little or no oversight by the City. The City could not recommend a healthcare plan that essentially locks in the unsustainable healthcare benefits they have had for more than 25 years and is substantially more expensive than the plan for police officers and all other City employees.
In exchange for firefighters contributing to the cost of their healthcare for the first time ever, the City offered a 12% pay increase over five years. The union rejected the City’s proposals and continued to counter with proposals that, in aggregate, were more costly than the recently completed police contract. The mediator declared impasse on April 3, 2017.
Prior to the court-ordered mediation, the fire union had refused multiple requests by the City for three years to come to the bargaining table and begin negotiations. Instead, the fire union allowed its contract to expire and trigger the “evergreen clause,” which allows the terms and benefits of the expired contract to continue. With the “evergreen clause” in place, the fire union has refused – despite nine requests from the City – to negotiate a new contract for wages and benefits after the most recent agreement expired on Sept. 30, 2014. On Oct. 1, 2017, the City entered its ninth year of the 2009 contract and the fourth year in the evergreen period. During that time, healthcare costs per fire uniform employee have increased by nearly 120%.