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.