Texas Supreme Court protects union leave provision

Following several legal challenges, the Texas Supreme Court affirms Austin Local 975’s union business leave as constitutional in a 6-3 ruling.

July 5 • 2024

The Texas Supreme Court upheld Austin, TX Local 975’s union business leave provision, protecting members’ rights and setting a strong precedent for IAFF affiliates nationwide.

The case, brought forward by taxpayers funded by the Goldwater Institute, challenged the union business leave provisions in Local 975’s CBA, arguing it violates the Texas Constitution’s ‘gift clause.’ However, in a 6-3 ruling, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the provision, recognizing its critical role in promoting fair labor practices and ensuring fire fighter safety.

“We go wherever the fight is,” said General President Edward Kelly. “This attack, backed by the anti-union Goldwater Institute, was not about protecting taxpayers. It was about weakening Labor, plain and simple. Our affiliate leaders need to be able to do their jobs and this decision guarantees they will be able to do just that. We were proud to support Local 975 in this fight.

“This win benefits not only our members and the Austin community they serve, but working people across Texas,” he said.

Peter Leff, General Counsel of the IAFF, said this ruling recognizes union business leave as essential for union leaders to participate in collective bargaining, address grievances, and advocate for enhanced safety standards. These activities benefit not just union members but also the public.

“The Texas Supreme Court’s strong language on the public interest and activities of unions and union officers in this decision bodes well,” said Leff. “It underscores that engaging in union activities is a matter of public concern.

“This victory is a testament to the tireless efforts of our union members who work daily to protect lives and property,” he added. “While opponents may continue to challenge these rights, this ruling sends a clear message that union activities are fundamental to preserving workers’ rights and ensuring public safety. It sets a precedent that will help   unions facing similar challenges in other jurisdictions .”

Local 975 President Bob Nicks hailed the Supreme Court ruling as a major triumph for fire fighter labor rights in Texas.

This case spanned many years, and the IAFF, along with our IAFF-assigned attorneys, supported us throughout,” said Nicks. “During extensive depositions and cross-examinations in court, I couldn’t have been more prepared. While Local 975 is a large IAFF Local, we simply lacked the resources to fight such a lengthy and costly legal battle alone. The IAFF taking the lead in defending Texas fire fighters’ collective bargaining rights is just one example of how the IAFF has our back.”

The IAFF’s Guardian Policy supported Local 975’s efforts. The policy provides direct legal representation from the IAFF General Counsel to protect union leaders facing retaliation for union activities or public advocacy or for potentially precedent-setting cases that would affect other IAFF affiliates.