Image courtesy of the San Antonio Police Officers Association.
Image courtesy of the San Antonio Police Officers Association.

It was the San Antonio police union’s turn to present a health care benefits and wage proposal at Tuesday’s collective bargaining session with the City of San Antonio.

The City’s current proposal was made Oct. 7. Since face-to-face meetings resumed in September after a tense summer standoff, contract talks have assumed a rhythm of each side playing offense one meeting and defense the next.

It didn’t take long for the two sides to agree, yet again, that neither side buys the other’s numbers. Negotiators on both sides of the table grew snappish as the afternoon meeting drew to a close, agreeing to meet again Monday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m., with little promise of an agreement in sight.

To review the police union’s new proposal, click here.

The City’s Oct. 7 proposal included a onetime 1.5% pay bonus in 2015 followed by two 1% pay raises. The union’s Tuesday proposal called for a 4% pay increase in 2015 and 2016, a 1% longevity adjustment in 2017, and 3% raises in 2018 and 2019.

Those are vastly different wage proposals.

Jeff Londa, the City’s lead negotiator, said the Oct. 7 proposal increased police pay by $22 million over the next three years while holding down health care costs at $10,900 per union member. The union’s latest proposal, he said, would cost $37 million over that same period, and $178 million over five years as wage and longevity pay increases compounded, with per capita health care costs totaling $13,300 annually.

Houston labor lawyer Jeff Londa, representing the City of San Antonio.
Houston labor lawyer Jeff Londa, representing the City of San Antonio.

“While we appreciate the fact that we received a proposal today, we have serious concerns,” Londa said. “The proposal seems to move backwards.”

City Council’s 2015 budget for the new fiscal year went into effect on Oct. 1, and holds public safety costs at 66% of the general budget, which exceeds $1 billion for the first time. That meant holding union health care costs down to $10,000 a year per uniform officer, far less than the $14,400 currently being spent on each officer, but well above the $7,300 the City spends on health care for each civilian employee.

On Oct. 7, the City’s negotiating team increased that number to $10,900, but Londa and Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, who has taken a more active role in negotiations this month, repeatedly said on Tuesday that the City would not budge on the number.

“We calculate the union plan would raise the percentage to 70% of the general fund,” Londa said. “I’d like to point something out to everyone: If we do not reach an agreement soon, the additional cost to the City would be an additional $1.6 million per month.”

The clear implication was that the City is unlikely to absorb such a deficit for very long, and could move unilaterally to impose benefit cuts if contract talks extend into the new year.

City negotiators also seemed skeptical of the union proposal to bargain away choice in plans in favor of a single plan for all members. The City’s Oct. 7 proposal offers three choices: a so-called Legacy Plan, a Value Plan and a Consumer Driven Plan, each with its own costs and benefits to union members and dependents.

Ron DeLord, the lead union negotiator, and Randy McGraw, the union’s benefits consultant, surprised City negotiators with a proposal to move all uniform police officers to a single Consumer Driven Health Plan, an option that is growing in popularity as employers everywhere struggle to contain runaway health care costs and shift more responsibility to employees. McGraw cited a weekend Wall Street Journal story on the trend as he presented the proposal.

From the San Antonio Police Officers Association's medical plan proposal.
From the San Antonio Police Officers Association’s medical plan proposal.

Employers also are seeking to avoid paying the so-called Cadillac Tax, a 40% excise tax on benefit-rich plans, one of the measures in the Affordable Care Act designed to help drive down health care costs. The tax takes effect in 2018. Both the City and the union have agreed to work toward a new deal that averts the tax kicking in on the union’s coverage.

Beyond the very different wage proposals, the two sides are more clearly divided than ever on City Council’s decision to hold public safety spending at 66% of the general budget. Achieving that number required City staff to include a $10,000 “placeholder number” in the budget approved in September that took effect in October. In effect, Council was betting that a new contract would be reached that would include health care costs reduced to $10,000 per union member.

“The 66% is the number, and I know you guys didn’t agree with that number last fall when we had the task force, but we have Council guidance and we are going to work with it,” said Walsh.

Ron Delord. Courtesy photo.
San Antonio Police Officers Association lawyer Ron DeLord. Courtesy photo.

DeLord made it clear at the end of Tuesday’s sessions that the union does not accept $10,900 as a hard and fast number. City Council, he said, is free to agree to a higher number.

“I hope you heard our number is $10,900,” Londa said.

“I have heard the number, but it’s not a final position,” DeLord said. “I’ve heard the Council say it’s a benchmark…To say that we have no more money than $10,900 is not true.”

“The Council’s direction to us is 66%, which I will share with you guys is higher than any other Texas city, that’s what we have to deal with,” Walsh said.

The exchanges grew heated as the meeting drew to a conclusion and DeLord complained of “dishonesty” in Londa’s claim the union proposal would consume 70% of the general budget.

“They’re not made up numbers,” Londa said.

“Well, let’s agree to work on the math,” DeLord said.

That will fall to Buddy Morris and Randy McGraw when they meet between now and Nov. 3, but the two consultants representing the City and the union, respectively, are unlikely to bridge the growing gap between the two sides on benefits and wages.

The Mayor’s Health Care and Retirement Benefits Task Force Report, presented to then-Mayor Julián Castro and City Council on Feb. 19, is a good reference for readers who want to delve more deeply into the numbers.

*Featured/top image courtesy of the San Antonio Police Officers Association.


City Sweetens Deal for Police Union 

City and Police Negotiators Closing the Gap

San Antonio and Police Union Talking Again

City Council Approves Budget, Urges Union Talks

After Three Months, City and Police Union to Meet

Police Union Takes Aim At City Leaders

See all stories related to the current contract negotiations here.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.