Bexar County commissioners unanimously approved Friday a collective bargaining agreement with the sheriff and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County that includes wage increases and other updated employment conditions for uniformed officers in the Sheriff’s Office.
The collective bargaining process for the four-year, $42.6 million contract began in April 2015, Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean told commissioners. Association President Juan Contreras said the majority of the negotiations, which were stressful at times, were focused around wages and health insurance.
Under the new contract, law enforcement deputies will receive a 15% pay increase phased in over four years and detention sergeants, lieutenants, and captains will receive a 16.25% increase over the same period, “one of the most substantial pay raises in (association) history,” Contreras said.
The agreement also includes new pay supplements for officers, including $50-$100 per month for certifications with the American Corrections Association or the American Jail Association, $25 per work week for those who train new patrol and detention officers, and $50 per month for “critical incident response pay” for the emergency response team, the special emergency response team, and County negotiators.
The Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County approved the contract this week with a 528-103 vote.
“I believe at the end of the day that we did get a presentable contract for membership that was fair for everybody,” Contreras said.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff pointed to the City’s contentious, more than three-year collective bargaining process with the San Antonio Police Officers Association, which finally concluded with the approval of a controversial contract in September.
Like the County’s collective bargaining agreement process, much of the discussions about the City and police union’s agreement also centered around wages and healthcare benefits. The final document was criticized by local activists and others, including Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), who said it lacks accountability measures for officers and lets cops with prior offenses off the hook.
“I can’t say enough about the professionalism of all sides in negotiating this,” Wolff said. “It did take a long time, but I think it’s in the benefit of the County as well as the officers that (the agreement) passes.”
Sheriff-elect Javier Salazar told the Rivard Report that the pay raises are one of “the most remarkable” provisions in the new contract since they’re more equal to wages earned at other similar-sized law enforcement agencies.
He hopes to use the new agreement as a key recruitment tool in the new year.
“Those numbers certainly help,” he said. “If I’m trying to attract … the best of the best applicants that are coming in then it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a good, respected pay grade (to offer them).”
Commissioners also voted to eliminate a $100 per month spousal surcharge for employee spouses who choose to use the County-provided health insurance instead of insurance provided by their employers. The surcharge, which would have brought in $478,000 to the County, was suggested by County staff in August as a way to mitigate the County’s ballooning health insurance costs that were projected to increase by $9.7 million next year if not addressed.
Smith-Dean said that the County will address those costs in the budget process with smaller incremental cost increases over time.
“It impacts the families a lot less when we do it on a gradual basis,” said Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4).
More than 90 job vacancies in the sheriff’s office and an increasing jail population also led County commissioners Friday to authorize 15,198 mandatory overtime hours for detention officers incurred between January and March 2017, an overall cost of about $450,000. The hours are additional to the 15,198 hours already authorized by County commissioners in November.
Officials said that the jail population in the Bexar County Adult Detention Center this fiscal year has remained at around 3,700 inmates. A lack of coordination among the City, the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD), the County, and the District Attorney’s office to assure an adequate means of transmitting video evidence from police-worn body cameras has been a large contributor to the high inmate numbers, said outgoing Sheriff Susan Pamerleau. That’s because inmates who are captured by the SAPD body cams when arrested must remain in jail until the footage is processed, which can take days.
Pamerleau said the sheriff’s office is “on schedule” in terms of implementing its own online interface for downloading and sending body camera footage from sheriff’s deputies.