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July 2, 2024

Texas Supreme Court Rules that Including Union Business Leave in Collective Bargaining Agreements is Legal

The Texas Supreme Court affirmed the trial verdict in the case of Borgelt v. City of Austin et al., siding with the Austin Firefighters Association.
Home » News » Texas Supreme Court Rules that Including Union Business Leave in Collective Bargaining Agreements is Legal
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John W. Stewart
Tues., 07/02/2024

As reported by Law360, on June 28, 2024, the Texas Supreme Court affirmed the trial verdict in the case of Borgelt v. City of Austin et al., siding with the Austin Firefighters Association, represented by McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP attorneys Diana J. Nobile and John W. Stewart, in a challenge to the Association’s use of union official time in its collective bargaining agreement. The decision marks the culmination of a nearly 8-year battle to defend the rights of the Austin Firefighters Association against the attacks of individual plaintiffs, backed by the Goldwater Institute and Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the Texas Attorney General.

The underlying lawsuit, originally filed in 2016, sought to invalidate the portion of the AFA’s Collective Bargain Agreement (“CBA”) that provides for a certain type of leave known as union “official time,” referred to in the CBA as “Association Business Leave” or “ABL,” and used by Austin firefighters to perform union-related business such as work on collective bargaining, grievances, dispute resolution, and other union business. The plaintiffs claimed in their lawsuit that the ABL provision violated the Texas Constitution’s “Gift Clause,” which prohibits gifts of public funds for private interests.

The decision not only rejects the plaintiffs’ and Attorney General’s attacks on the AFA’s official time, it also makes several important pro-labor findings–a relative rarity in Texas Supreme Court jurisprudence. For example, the Court recognized that the following categories of activities could serve predominantly public interests, not merely a union’s private interests: “time spent in Collective Bargaining negotiations; adjusting grievances, attending dispute resolution proceedings, addressing cadet classes during cade training . . . , and attending union conferences and meetings.”

Further, it found that union members’ work adjusting grievances–that is, when union members work with grievants to help decide whether and how to file a grievance over a workplace issue–is work that “relates to the sound management of the department, not just the self-interest of the person who files a grievance or is the subject of discipline. Yielding accurate results from these processes is why the department has grievance processes. Proper resolution serves the public interest.” Particularly coming from an institution such as the Texas Supreme Court, this is another important endorsement of the public benefits provided by labor organizations in Texas.

Law360 quoted MSE partner Diana J. Nobile as saying: “Today’s decision affirms that the important work of the Austin Firefighters Association serves vital public purposes, including raising safety concerns, collective bargaining, and adjusting grievances . . . . This is a big win for the AFA, for Austin’s firefighters, and for the community they serve.”

MSE proudly represents labor unions and their members.  If you have a question about this case or about your rights as a union member and/or employee, please contact us at info@mselaborlaw.com or (202) 833-8855.

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