On November 22nd, Governor Patrick signed the Evergreen “Fix” bill into law. The bill was passed as an emergency act so it immediately goes into effect. Accordingly, municipal employers are bound to the terms of collective bargaining agreements with an evergreen clause until a new contract is negotiated. This is now the law, even if an evergreen clause extends a collective bargaining agreement beyond three years.
Last fall, the state Supreme Judicial Court overturned 30 years of history and held that “evergreen clauses” – clauses that extend collective bargaining agreements until a new contract is negotiated – were unlawful and unenforceable if the clause operated to extend a collective bargaining agreement beyond three years. This wreeked havoc in some communities because employers took advantage of the ruling by refusing to arbitrate grievances after a three- year contract expired. In addition, some employers took the position that they were not bound by any of the terms of the contract after three years, despite the fact that the employer had agreed to an evergreen provision.
This problem was corrected by the legislature on November 17thin House 3789-11. As a result of diligent efforts, persistence and lobbying by a broad coalition of public sector unions over the past year, the legislature enacted a bill that reverses the SJC ruling — reaffirming that evergreen clauses are enforceable even if they operate to extend the contract beyond three years. In addition, and again due to the extraordinary efforts of the labor coalition, the legislation contains a retroactivity provision. Section 2 of the new law restores evergreen clauses to any collective bargaining agreement that contained an evergreen provision and had expired after three years under the SJC decision. Evergreen clauses in such agreements are resurrected and enforceable going forward – even as to matters that arose prior to this legislation. So, if you are under a three year contract with an evergreen clause that had expired under the SJC ruling, the contract has been restored and is enforceable until a new contract is negotiated.
There is a narrow exception the retroactivity provision. The law does not apply are “specific matters” that “were pending or adjudicated in a court of competent jurisdiction” at the time that law was passed. There will undoubtedly be litigation about which cases fall under that exception. But the vast majority of matters are back under the umbrella of evergreen clauses. This bill is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
OK, just when you thought it was okay to put aside the Quinn bill case until the SJC issues a ruling, our “friends” over on Morrissey Boulevard decide they need to chime in on the case – by writing an editorial urging the SJC to rule against the right of officers to be paid according to the law. Yes, the Globe’s editorial board (not sure how many lawyers on that one) ran an editorial telling the state’s Supreme Judicial Court how to rule on a case. Here’s the editorial. http://bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2011/11/17/dispute-over-police-benefit-don-leave-cities-holding-bag/b5lHRrNsAoIvC2sg6IFYNO/story.html
Totally apart from the merits of the Quinn Bill (many cities and towns, in addition to the vast majority of educated police officers, probably would disagree with calling the program a “boondoggle.”), the Globe is suggesting that the Court ignore the law because cities and towns are facing tough times. That’s a bit scary. Anyway, here’s what I wrote in a letter to the editor (wasn’t printed today, maybe they’ll print it tomorrow):
To the editor,
The Globe advocates that the Supreme Judicial Court disregard the law due to a fiscal crisis when it urges the Court to rule against Boston Police Officers seeking to enforce their statutory right to receive Quinn bill payments. Unfortunately for the Globe, the SJC is the ultimate arbiter of Massachusetts law; it is not the ultimate fiscal watchdog for the legislature and municipalities.
The Globe correctly points out that the officers’ unions agreed that the city would reduce benefits if the state did not reimburse the City for Quinn bill payments. However, because the law specifies the benefits levels, the parties were not free to enter into agreements that violate it. This is not a “narrow argument,” as the Globe suggests, it is the law. As John Adams so concisely stated, we are a nation of laws, not men.
The Globe has long editorialized against the virtue of the Quinn Bill. However, this case is not about the merits of that law, it is about whether the City of Boston can disregard the law during tough economic times. The Globe suggests the SJC turn down a dangerous path in advocating that the City be allowed to do just that.
Sandulli Grace, PC
(the author is counsel to the plaintiff officers in Adams v. Boston, the case at issue here, and argued the case before the Supreme Judicial Court)
In any event, the SJC has taken the matter under advisement. I don’t for a minute think that the Court will decide the case based on a directive from the Globe, but it’s disconcerting that the Globe editors would let their longstanding disdain for the Quinn program cause them to recommend that the law be ignored. If they want to take their case to the state house, they should. And we’ll be there, hopefully with Bob Quinn leading the charge, to continue to explain why and educated police force is in EVERYONE’s best interest. And you, as police officers, can also explain to the Globe how the law needs to be followed, even when they disagree with it.
Oh, and since the Globe’s editorial was less than unbiased, I feel fully justified in passing along this link about the paper’s circulation: http://www.theonion.com/video/boston-globe-tailors-print-edition-for-three-remai,17572/
We just got word that the Supreme Judicial Court has scheduled oral argument for Adams v. Boston for November 8, 2011 at 9:00a.m. At issue in the case is whether a municipality can cut Quinn Bill payments to officers based on the underfunding of reimbursements by the state. Sandulli Grace Attorney Bryan Decker will be arguing the case for the Boston Officers challenging cuts to their educational benefit.
Suffolk University provides a live videocast of SJC oral arguments at http://www.suffolk.edu/sjc/ . If you miss the live broadcast, Suffolk will post an archive copy of the video within a few days of the argument. The case number is SJC-10861 if you’d like to watch. While the SJC courtroom is open to the public, there is very little seating available, and we do not encourage folks to attend the oral argument in person.
The most recent development is that the Massachusetts Municipal Association has filed an Amicus brief in the case defending the city. This brief is amazing in that the MMA’s counsel waxes poetic about the virtues of bargaining over EVERYTHING. This is the same MMA that for over 30 years has claimed that it CANNOT bargain about most things – that everything is “an inherent managerial right.” The MMA saying we should bargain everything is like Michele Bachmann saying something sane. It’s like the Boston Globe saying that Police Details are great. It’s like Snookie saying she thinks sobriety is way cool. You get the idea – it’s a complete 180.
We’re getting ready for, and looking forward to, the argument. As always, we’ll keep you posted.
As you no doubt know if you are a reader of this blog, many police contracts contain provisions which seek to “modify” the educational incentive benefits granted by the Quinn Bill. Under the Quinn Bill, M.G.L. c. 41, §108L, qualified officers receive salary increases from 10-25% based on the attainment of criminal justice related college degrees. The Quinn Bill is a local option statute, meaning that it only applies in municipalities that voluntarily adopt it. In addition, the Quinn bill states that the state will reimburse Towns for one half of monies spent on Quinn Bill benefits.
The contract provisions modifying the Quinn Bill generally allow municipalities to cut pay to officers in the event that the Commonwealth fails to fully reimburse 50% of Quinn Bill expenditures. In other words, the contracts allow the municipalities to pass 100% of a targeted local aid cut onto officers.
Because the Quinn Bill is not a statute that can be modified by collective bargaining, several lawsuits have been filed across the state seeking to invalidate contract provisions that cut Quinn benefits. The first suit was filed by Sandulli Grace representing officers in Mashpee, where the local union is an affiliate of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police. Sandulli Grace also represents officers in a separate case filed in Boston.
Late last year, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed to pluck the Boston case out of Superior Court and hear it in the first instance. Today, we filed our brief in chief in the case. You can read it here. The case is actually quite straightforward – the Quinn Bill cannot be legally modified by collective bargaining, and therefore officers must be paid their full benefit, regardless of any collective bargaining agreement allowing otherwise. While the Boston case was transferred to the SJC before any decision was rendered below, the Middlesex Superior Court did issue a finding consistent with our position last month in a case involving North Reading. You can read about the North Reading case at pages 11-13 of our brief.
We’re very hopeful that the SJC will agree with us and rule that police officers who have diligently pursued advanced education for the benefit of their employer and themselves should be paid their full Quinn Benefits. After the City of Boston files its brief and we reply, the court will set the case for oral argument. We hope that this will occur in the spring, and that we have a decision not long thereafter. Of course, we’ll keep you posted.