City representatives sign documents to agreeable terms between the City and the Professional Firefighters Association.
Documents are passed and signed during a collective bargaining meeting between negotiators for the City and its firefighters union in February. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Day 2 of talks between the firefighters union and City of San Antonio representatives got off to a prickly start Tuesday as the two sides quarreled over a perceived lack of communication.

But they eventually settled on language regarding a new binding arbitration rule and its role in the labor negotiations. The sides also agreed on four articles of the firefighters’ contract that need no changes, one that is obsolete, and made headway on at least a dozen others that need adjustments. Those changes will be discussed further at the next meeting on Friday, Feb. 22.

The two sides expect to present contract proposals when they meet Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Discussions so far have largely been procedural and not as significant as the points of contention that await — health care and wage increases.

Voices were raised on both sides when negotiators discussed a press conference the union called yesterday and language that an attorney representing the City used to describe a new arbitration rule.

Ultimately the two sides agreed that the rule, approved by voters through Proposition C in November, applies to these negotiations and is included in the ground rules, which are slated for final approval Friday.

“I will take the City at its word that the city will recognize the legitimacy of the impacts of the provision that’s now part of the charter,” Fire union attorney Ricky J. Poole told reporters after the meeting. “Our position is we just want to make sure that we’re not looking at another challenge – a three- to four-year hiatus – while we go litigate this issue.”

The City has no plans to challenge Prop C, the City’s lead negotiator Jeff Londa said.

Union officials called a press conference Monday to call out Londa, for suggesting there could be a possible legal challenge to Proposition C. The measure gave the union the ability to call for binding arbitration on a new labor agreement.

Chief negotiator representing the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association Ricky Poole.
Chief negotiator representing the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association Ricky Poole. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Poole said he didn’t understand what Londa meant when he told reporters that he didn’t think Proposition C “meshes” with other elements of the collective bargaining agreement.

“No idea what that means,” Poole said.

“A good reason for a [phone call],” Londa responded.

Poole agreed to start calling more but made it clear that he prefers communication to be confirmed in writing.

“It seems like you call press conferences more than you call me,” said City Attorney Andy Segovia said. 

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia
San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Poole bristled at that, pointing out only two press conferences he’s called at the union hall this year and noting several other calls with and emails sent to Segovia.

Londa walked back his statements made two weeks ago in which he questioned the applicability of Proposition C.

“Prop C is very clear. The union has the right to declare impasse and once that happens, arbitration results,” he said Tuesday.

During the meeting, the two sides briefly discussed replacing the firefighters’ current 10-year evergreen clause, which has allowed most contract terms to remain in place after the pact expired in 2014. Proposition C largely renders an extended evergreen clause useless, Londa said, because Prop C provides a path to reach a contract deal after 60 days of negotiations.

“I’m not sure that I agree that those two issues [evergreen and Prop C] are really linked together,” Poole said.

The fire union would consider a 60-day evergreen clause proposal, but Poole added that he’s not “excited” by the idea of dropping it from 10 years to 60 days. The police union agreed to an eight-year clause in its 2016 contract.

State law allows for labor negotiations to continue for 60 days with 15-day extensions if both sides agree. At 61 days, an impasse is triggered and the City or the union could ask for arbitration. Both could refuse, and the union has the option to go to court if the City refuses to arbitrate.

Under Prop C, however, the fire union could call an impasse and unilaterally trigger binding arbitration sessions.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org