It’s finally happening: Representatives of the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) will meet around the table Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the Municipal Plaza Building to explore a new round of collective bargaining talks.
It’s been more than six months since negotiators for the City and the two key public safety unions, SAPOA and the San Antonio Firefighters Association, came together in March and agreed to spend the next 90 days crafting a new collective bargaining agreement.
The existing five-year contract was set to expire on Sept. 30 and the idea was for all sides to reach agreement by the end of June, well in advance of that date. Instead, mid-June brought an impasse in City-police union talks and the firefighters union never accepted any of the City’s repeated invitations to meet.
Union officials have blamed City Manager Sheryl Sculley for the failure of the talks, while ignoring the broad support on City Council for staff’s recommended cuts in health care benefits and other contract benefits, such as free legal representation for personal issues such as divorce and DWI.
A City-appointed Health Care Task Force also recommended cuts to the rich union health care benefits package, saying the City could no longer sustain the costs of health care costs, which were set to rise 20% this year alone and would consume the entire general budget by 2030 if unchecked. The task force recommended that uniform police and firefighters start paying monthly premiums and standard co-pays for office visits and prescriptions, use in-network physicians, and reduce the number of emergency room visits.
Police and firefighters packed City Council chambers last Thursday to observe the unanimous Council vote approving the 2015 budget, which starts Oct. 1 and assumes a reduction in union benefits. They cheered Mayor Ivy Taylor, who they perceive as a force for reopening talks and someone open to a richer benefits package than City negotiators are offering. However, Council did vote to hold public safety spending to 66.5 % of the general fund budget, so any softening of the City’s position will require cuts to other departmental budgets.
Both Mike Helle, the head of SAPOA, and Chris Steele, the head of SAFA, spoke at length at the Council meeting. Steele, in particular, targeted Sculley in his remarks.
(Read More: Council Approves Budget, Urges Union Talks)
An anonymous letter dated Sept. 13 and purportedly written and distributed by unnamed firefighters to all fire stations in the city, called Steele an embarrassment to the union for his opposition to a pilot program intended to reduce unnecessary 911 calls to EMS, and his general handling of issues ranging from the VIA streetcar plan to his public criticisms of police and firefighter management. Click here to read the letter.
The Rivard Report has previously invited both Helle and Steele to submit op-eds here presenting their views. Neither union leader has responded to date.
*Featured/top image: San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle answers media questions with fellow police officers outside City Council Chambers. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
See all stories related to the current contract negotiations here.