Police union and City of San Antonio negotiating teams are closer than ever to reaching a new deal after both sides presented four-year contract proposals on Wednesday that were about $4 million apart. When the two sides met at the negotiating table earlier this month, they left behind a $20 million gap and talk of a stalemate.
“There are still some pieces left,” said San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) President Mike Helle, “but I think that a lot of progress was made today … we’re really close.”
Talks will continue tomorrow afternoon when SAPOA is expected to present a response to the City’s latest offer, which includes a 15.75% wage increase, its highest yet, and continues a consumer-driven health plan with no premiums for dependents. That aspect of the City’s health care proposal hinges on the police union agreeing to start paying premiums for dependents after the contract expires in 2020. Helle said his team will be working on analyzing the implications of such a clause.
The City’s team has said that dependent premiums are key to keeping the rising costs of health care in check and, therefore, public safety spending within 66% of the General Fund.
“What we tried to do today was give them the zero dependent premiums for the term of this contract but to settle it for the next contract so we won’t have to go through this ordeal over premiums again,” said the City’s lead negotiator Jeff Londa. The City’s contract amounts to $79 million of additional costs to the city over the life of the contract and SAPOA’s comes to $83 million, Londa said, agreeing that significant progress was made.
Under the current contract, members and their dependents do not pay premiums. During the more than 18-months of contract negotiations, the police union has so far agreed to pay premiums under the value plan, not the consumer-driven health plan.
The police union’s proposal made Wednesday morning had made a few tweaks to the out-of-pocket costs in the consumer-driven health care plan and shifted higher wage increases towards the end of the contract to avoid compounding costs to the City. The union’s largest wage increase, effective Oct. 1, 2018, would be 6.5% while the smallest, 2%, would be effective on Oct. 1, the first day of the 2016 fiscal year.
The City responded with a wage increase schedule that followed the same structure until the last year when its proposal calls for a 4% raise on Oct. 1, 2018 and another 2% effective Jan. 1, 2019. Both contracts include a 3% signing bonus for members. The union is looking into ways of more fairly distributing that bonus across its rank and file.
Coming to a consensus on health care and wage increases is the main hurdle for the two sides to jump before signing a deal, but several issues remain including ending the City’s contribution to a legal defense fund and changing tuition reimbursement qualifications.
“Those (issues) can be worked out,” Helle said.
The biggest issue is expected to be the 10-year evergreen clause. All contract proposals from City include a footnote that the deal would come with “elimination/revision of the evergreen clause,” which keeps the current contract, signed in 2009, in place for 10 years beyond its Sept. 30, 2014 expiration date. That clause is the subject of a City lawsuit challenging its legality.
San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association (SAPFA) President Chris Steele sat in on a portion of the negotiations. The talks are open to the public but Steele does not usually attend. Historically, the firefighters’ union has accepted the same contract terms negotiated by the police union. SAPFA has yet to formally meet with the City’s team.
*Top image: The City of San Antonio negotiation team (left) sits across from the SAPOA negotiation team (right). Photo by Scott Ball.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.