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Governor signs law to protect collective bargaining rights for public sector workers

Governor Patrick signed a bill into law today that was backed by many labor unions, including the MNA, and would affect collective bargaining for public employees. An Act relative to the terms of collective bargaining agreements, which codifies the use of so-called evergreen clauses in collective bargaining contracts, was enacted in the House and Senate in the final hours of their formal sessions for 2012 last week.

The new law addresses a ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court last October, which held that evergreen clauses, which extend the terms and conditions of current collective bargaining agreements while labor unions and employers negotiate a new agreement, violate the state’s Labor Relations statute if they extend contract terms beyond three years.

Since the Labor Relations statute was enacted in 1973, there has been widespread and uncontroversial acceptance of evergreen clauses by the Commonwealth’s public employers and labor unions. The bill signed into law by the Governor explicitly allows evergreen clauses and affirms over 40 years of well established and settled labor law. As acknowledged by the SJC, 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, particularly during periods of severe economic strain.