Mayor Ivy Taylor calls for and end to personal attacks during the police union contract negotiations in December 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Mayor Ivy Taylor calls for and end to personal attacks during the police union contract negotiations in December 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The City Council’s Governance Committee, chaired by Mayor Ivy Taylor, will meet Wednesday to discuss a request by five of the 10 Council members to consider withdrawing the City’s lawsuit against the police and firefighter unions over the legality of the evergreen clause in the collective bargaining agreement. That clause affords union leaders an extraordinary bargaining chip by keeping the benefits in an expired contract in effect for 10 years if new contract talks fail.

City officials say the clause serves as a disincentive for the union to negotiate, and they say most evergreen clauses stay in effect only for 30-90 days. Union officials have offered to reduce the clause from 10 to four years in their proposals, and refuse to return to the negotiating table unless the lawsuit is withdrawn. Meanwhile, union discovery motions have kept the lawsuit from coming up for a hearing.

Members of the Governance Committee include (from left) Ron Nirenberg (D8), Joe Krier (D9), the Chair and Mayor Ivy Taylor, Ray Saldaña (D4), and Rebecca Viagran (D3).
Governance Committee (l-r) Ron Nirenberg (D8), Joe Krier (D9), Chair and Mayor Ivy Taylor, Rey Saldaña (D4), and Rebecca Viagran (D3).

The full City Council meeting Wednesday in B Session also  will focus on the stalled collective bargaining talks. The Council will be briefed by staff on a third-party assessment of the financial models the City has used for its proposed union health care plans, and its assertions that current levels of health care benefits, which are rising as much as 20% a year. The 4,000-plus uniformed personnel do not pay health care premiums or many out-of-pocket expenses. At the last negotiating session on Nov. 3, the two sides agreed to have independent actuaries review their respective financial models when they could not agree on the likely cost savings of their respective proposals. City officials say their review is complete, while the police union has been silent on the issue.

Regarding the lawsuit, which is unlikely to get a court date before the May 9 city elections, attorneys for the City believe there is ample case law to show that a 10-year evergreen clause is unconstitutional in Texas. The union leadership argues the City is bargaining in bad faith by seeking legal relief at the same time the two sides are supposed to be meeting at the negotiating table.

The five-year labor agreement expired on Sept. 30, six months after a letter of agreement was signed calling for the two sides to agree on a new contract by last June. The two sides have not met for nearly three months now, and the union has not responded to the City’s offers to resume talks in February. Both sides are divided internally, with the public caught somewhere in between.

Five Council members signed a memo earlier this month seeking to bring the issue of withdrawing the lawsuit to a vote. That move negates the unanimous promise former Mayor Julián Castro exacted from council members last year not to  communicate directly with union leaders or take public positions that differ from the City’s negotiating team. There have been several resignations on City Council since Castro resigned as mayor last July, but three of the signatories, Cris Medina (D7), Ray Lopez (D6), and Shirley Gonzales (D5), were part of Castro’s Council.

A further sign of division came this month when Henry Cisneros, who served as San Antonio’s mayor from 1981-89 and became the chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in January, met with the police union leadership and then called a press conference calling for the two sides to return to the bargaining table.

SA Chamber of Commerce Chairman Henry Cisneros spoke to reporters Monday afternoon about continuing police and fire union negotiations. Photo by Katherine Nickas.
SA Chamber of Commerce Chairman Henry Cisneros spoke to reporters in January about continuing police and fire union negotiations. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

(Read More: Cisneros Campaigns for Restart to Collective Bargaining Talks)

Chamber advertisements in the San Antonio Express-News followed. At the same time, the Chamber has been a strong supporter of City Manager Sheryl Sculley and her efforts to hold public safety expenditures to 67% of the City’s General Budget. To ignore rising costs, Sculley has warned, will lead to budget cuts in essential services and put the City’s AAA credit rating at risk. The Chamber also has been running ads on local television stations defending the city manager.

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley
San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley

Last week, Mayor Taylor sent an email to Sculley and the Council calling for an end to the Chamber advertisements. The police union’s campaign of attack ads aimed at Sculley and seeking her dismissal also seem to have subsided.

On the union side, the rank and file appear almost equally divided on the union leadership and its tactics. Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, was re-elected to his post earlier this month, but sources say he narrowly defeated challenger Joe Salvaggio. The voting results were not made public, but one source said Salvaggio actually won four of the six voting sites, while Helle won the headquarters site, narrowly prevailing by 103 votes in an election that drew about 2,000 union members.

San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle answers media questions with fellow police officers in front of City Council Chambers. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle answers questions in September 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The real driving force on the police union negotiating team appears to be its Georgetown attorney, Ron DeLord, a nationally known union negotiator and co-author of “Police Union Power, Politics, and Confrontation in the 21st Century.”

“What happens when good faith bargaining and getting to yes fail to achieve the goals that your police union has set?” the book asks. “Do you wilt up and call it a day, or do you take steps that will earn the attention and respect of the public official you are dealing with? Are you willing to go to the Court of Public Opinion and demand that the mayor, council and/or city manager do the right thing?

“A pitched battle against an incumbent mayor who has not been the union’s friend, or a high visibility referendum against an anti-employee city manager, might become necessary as well,” the book states.  “When you get in a fight with city hall, escalation is the key.”

Wednesday’s Governance Committee could result in Mayor Taylor building a new consensus among council members to support the City’s negotiating position, or it could result in Council members facing re-election in May continuing to call for a change in tactics. The only certainty is the rising cost of union health care to the City.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Governance Committee would review the third party assessment of the City’s financial projections for its proposed union health care plans. The full City Council in B Session will receive that review. 

*Featured/top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor calls for and end to personal attacks during the police union contract negotiations in December 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Related Stories:

Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.

Mayor Taylor Blocks Council Move on Unions

Interview: Mayor Taylor on the Police Union, Negotiations, and Her Political Future 

Mayor Taylor to Police Union: Let’s Cool it for the Holidays

$14.2 Million Cut From City Budget to Pay for Expired Police, Fire Contracts

City vs. Police Union: Whose Math Do You Trust?

Avatar photo

Robert Rivard

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.