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Legislature restores evergreen clauses

The state Legislature gave final approval on November 17 to a bill backed by the MTA and other labor organizations affirming the legality of “evergreen clauses,” which extend the terms of public-sector collective bargaining agreements after they expire while unions and employers negotiate new agreements.

Governor Deval Patrick signed the bill November 22.

The MTA played a leading role in a coalition of labor organizations that advocated for the bill.

“We are extremely happy that the Legislature has approved this bill,” said MTA President Paul Toner. “It is important that state lawmakers are reaffirming what we’ve always believed – that public employers and employees may agree that their contracts will remain in place if they are still negotiating when the existing contracts expire.”

The bill was filed in response to an October 2010 ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court in a case involving the Boston Housing Authority. In that case, the court ruled that evergreen clauses were not permitted under the state’s Labor Relations statute, G.L. c.150E, which has a provision limiting the duration of contracts to three years.

Many, but not all, public employee contracts in Massachusetts contained evergreen clauses when the BHA ruling was issued. The decision raised several concerns, including questions about how disputes would be resolved while successor contracts were being negotiated.

The chief sponsors of the bill were Representative Marty Walsh (D-Dorchester) and then-Senator Steven Tolman (D-Watertown), who has since become the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. Senators Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington) led the effort in the Senate to ensure passage before the end of the session. Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) both strongly backed the bill.

Supporters of the bill argued that:

  • Evergreen clauses are a common, established feature of public-sector labor relations. Since 150E was enacted in 1973, there has been widespread and uncontroversial acceptance of evergreen clauses by the Commonwealth’s public employers and labor unions, as well as by the Department of Labor Relations.
  • Evergreen clauses are voluntary. Like all contract terms, evergreen clauses must be approved by both labor and management during collective bargaining negotiations.
  • Evergreen clauses provide essential continuity during negotiations. As acknowledged by the SJC in the BHA case, evergreen clauses provide “a continuing code of conduct while parties negotiate a new bargaining agreement.” Such continuity is important during contentious periods in labor relations, when a contract is about to expire or has expired; it is particularly crucial during times of severe economic strain.
  • Evergreen clauses are common in the private sector and are legal under the National Labor Relations Act.
  • Evergreen clauses provide the means for efficient and effective conflict resolution during contract negotiations.
    Significantly, evergreen clauses are necessary to permit employers and labor unions to continue to utilize arbitration to resolve disputes over the terms and conditions of employment after a contract expires and the parties are bargaining for a new agreement.

There is no appropriation required for this bill. It contains an emergency preamble and will go into effect shortly after it is signed.