For the first time in four months, police union and City of San Antonio negotiation teams sat down to hammer out a new contract for uniformed employees on Friday morning. It was afternoon by the time the meeting let out, but despite the looming deadline of July 31 set by Mayor Ivy Taylor last month, the two sides don’t seem too much closer to a new agreement.
The union tossed back the proverbial ball to the City by presenting yet another contract proposal to the City’s team of staff and attorneys – one that the union team said kept public safety spending within the budget thresholds set by City Council. But the City’s lead negotiator Jeff Londa was skeptical of that claim, adding that he was “disappointed” with the new proposal.
“You say the union’s proposal presented today keeps public safety costs at 66%, we don’t see how that’s possible,” Londa said. “And we frankly don’t understand some aspects (of the proposed contract).”
Budget and health care experts representing the City and San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) have begun the process of trying to understand each other’s math, again. Both sides seem eager to reach a conclusion, but the main sticking points – which have essentially remained the same since negotiations started more than a year ago – surround member pay raises, their health care benefits, and the contract’s 10-year evergreen clause. The latter of which is the subject of a lawsuit in which the City has challenged the constitutionality of guaranteeing the execution of the existing contract for 10 years until a new agreement can be reached.
Both the wage increase and the health insurance packages seem to be even more expensive than SAPOA’s previous proposal presented on March 17, Londa said. “We will go run the numbers, though, and come back and talk with them more about it.”
“We’ve accepted that (66%) limit,” said SAPOA member and negotiating team representative Jason Sanchez, who remained confident that the proposal hits that goal when all the moving parts and projects are taken into consideration. The fire union contract, for instance, accounts for nearly half of the public safety budget and would need to agree to the same or similar terms in order to keep public safety spending in check.
Sanchez and Maria Villagomez, the City’s budget director who will be promoted to assistant city manager in October, retreated into another room right after the meeting to start crunching the numbers.
The City’s March 20 proposal offered a one-time, 2% signing bonus and 8.8% in automatic raises over three years, totaling $46.3 million. The police union, however, isn’t interested in a lump sum payment. They would rather realize pay increases entirely with percentage wage increases and a one-time increase of longevity pay, which would amount to a 14.4% pay increase of about $67 million, Sanchez said. A longevity pay increase to 0.75% per year, per returning officer, would account for about 2.4% of that increase.
But the SAPOA’s new proposal also extends the contract another year, with another 3% pay increase in FY 2019.
“We haven’t costed out your five-year proposal today – and we will and we’ll give you the numbers we come up with – but it seems to us that (the gap between the City’s and police union’s wage increase proposals) is now more than $33 million,” Londa said, due to the compounding nature of percentage increases compared to the lump-sum approach.
If an agreement is met by July 31, then it’s feasible that – after circulating it among membership – SAPOA and the City could sign an agreement in early September. If the wage increase structure from the police union is used, that means members could get three, 2% wage increases in six months.
Fischer said his team will be looking into how the City is crunching its budget numbers as well.
“The 2% wage increase included in the first year of our contract is really only going to be experienced for maybe a month of (fiscal year) 2015,” Fischer said. The fiscal year ends Sept. 31 and begins on Oct. 1.
In the grand scheme of the $4.6 billion four-year forecasted General Fund budget, $33 million would represent less than 0.5% of a margin of error, Fischer added, “not to belittle the number, but a $33 million (difference is) peanuts … we’re actually a lot closer to an agreement than it seems.”
Fischer’s was a perspective that didn’t seem to sit well with the City’s negotiating team. Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh countered that “$33 million is a lot. That’s equivalent to our entire (yearly) library budget. It is significant.”
The City currently spends $14,400 a year per uniform employee compared to the $7,200 it spends on its civilian employees and their annual health care coverage. SAPOA’s proposal would amount to $13,700, representing a 70-30% percent split of costs between the City and union members respectively.
After the City’s first look, the union’s health care proposal represents a “$2 million more per year cost to the city than its prior proposal,” Londa said. “Most Americans face paying premiums” and its time uniformed employees start sharing the cost of their health care. The current contract has the City paying all premiums for members and their families – an unsustainable model, City officials have said.
The proposal includes a health insurance clause that would call for members to pay 18% more of premiums for certain plans – conceding that members should contribute to the coverage of dependents.
“We’re opening the door on the premiums, we’re making that paradigm shift – that was important to a lot of folks (at the City),” said Dean Fischer, SAPOA vice president. “There’s a massive cost share shift on the backs of our officers on this one.”
But that cost share is only for the consumer driven health plan. The City wants premiums on both.
“The major concessions they’ve made are all related to out-of-network benefits … it’s really in an area that’s irrelevant,” said Jeff Coyle, intergovernmental relations director for the City, after the meeting. “The percentage of people on any health plan that uses out-of-pocket plans is really small.”
The City’s March 20 proposal estimates a maximum monthly average premium of $347 for family coverage, the union proposes to increase premiums over the life of the contract that would total almost $200 for families in 2019.
*Featured/top image: From left: SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer and attorney Ron DeLord, the police union’s lead negotiator, look on during a contract proposal presentation. Photo by Scott Ball.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.