Imagine you had a contract with your employer that could never be altered unless both you and your employer agreed to the changes. Imagine this contract was a windfall for you, giving you a four-day weekend, up to three months paid vacation each year, and the ability to retire early with a great pension. That might be great for you, but would it be fair?
If you live in the Saint Louis Metropolitan Area, as a taxpayer you might be the employer bound to such an agreement. The beneficiary of this arrangement? Your local firefighters union.
Nicknamed “evergreen clauses” because they make a contract last forever, these contract provisions are popping up in government collective bargaining agreements across the country. And they create a situation where elected officials cannot alter the pay, benefits, or work rules captured in a union contract unless the union agrees to this change. In practice, this means that pay and benefits can be ratcheted up in years when public finances are good and the union controls public officials, but pay and benefits cannot be brought back down when the union loses its influence or public coffers are tapped.
In West County, the Monarch Fire Protection District has tried to change the terms of its contract with International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2665, but it is limited by an evergreen clause. At issue in the contract are provisions that state:
- There will be no duties (other than an alarm) assigned to safety staff after noon of each working day. Each working day is a 24-hour shift.
- A firefighter/paramedic works three days in each nine-day period (two-to-three days each week).
- A firefighter/paramedic with 15 years of service (most of the shift staff) is entitled to 27 days of paid vacation each year. Working nine days a month, this comes to about three months of vacation a year.
- In addition to vacation days, a firefighter/paramedic also receives paid days off in the form of sick days and “Kelly” days.
- Sick leave accrues over time and can be “cashed out” for pay.
Perhaps these provisions made sense when they were adopted several years ago, but now the fire district, and by extension the taxpayers, are powerless to change them.
Contracts like this shift the power of government away from the democratic process to the government union benefiting from the contract. Missouri citizens should consider whether they really want their government to have the power to bind itself to a contract indefinitely.
At the time this story went to print, the firefighters union had not responded to our request for comments.