Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6)
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6). Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said in a news release Monday that he sent a letter to the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association last week, asking them to begin contract negotiations.

“It’s time we all work together to finalize a new contract for our firefighters,” Brockhouse said in a statement. “The citizens spoke at the ballot box, a new City Manager has been identified and the City has dropped its perennially losing lawsuits. All the ingredients are present to get back to the table and begin negotiating.”

Brockhouse said that despite the years and money spent fighting over a new contract, “we are right back where we started.”

After the fire union cited the City’s lawsuit against the evergreen clause in its contract as an obstacle to negotiations, the City dropped the lawsuit in November. The evergreen clause keeps the terms of the expired contract in place for 10 years or until the City and union are able to agree on a new contract. The police union had a similar evergreen clause in its contract, but reached a new agreement in 2016 after more than two years of negotiations.

Fire union President Chris Steele said in March that if the City dropped the lawsuit, the union would come to the negotiating table “within seven days.” However, negotiations between the City and union have not started. Steele did not immediately return request for comment.

In his letter to firefighters, Brockhouse reminded them of their victory “at the ballot box.” Two fire union-backed proposed charter amendments passed in November, one capping the city manager’s salary and tenure and the other allowing the union to unilaterally declare an impasse in negotiations and call for binding arbitration on a new labor deal.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley announced her retirement soon after the November election. Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh was recently named as finalist to replace her, with City Council set to vote Thursday on his hiring. Brockhouse called him a “fair and just man,” urging the union to work with him.

“Erik understands the fiscal toll that out of control pay and benefits can take on the City budget, and he also understands the physical and emotional toll the lack of fair compensation and adequate benefits can have on first responders and their families,” Brockhouse wrote in his letter to the fire union. “I honestly believe he will negotiate in good faith.”

Brockhouse pushed the fire union to schedule a meeting with the City to begin negotiations, saying that “forgiveness begins with humility.”

“I can’t say what City leadership will do,” he wrote. “I can’t guarantee fairness at the negotiating table. I can’t ensure any pay or benefits. But I can guarantee we will continue the acrimony if someone doesn’t open one ear and listen.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.