Negotiators for the City of San Antonio and the firefighters union are poised to continue collective bargaining talks for two more weeks after both sides settled on terms for two days of mediation before a former Texas Supreme Court judge.
The parties now will have until April 21 to settle on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Friday night, the union responded to the City’s request for a 15-day extension with two specific days scheduled for mediation. It agreed to mediation with the former judge, but its proposal said the dates of mediation should be decided on later and take place at a “mutually agreeable” location (the City asked for a “neutral” location). The union also added language that keeps its right to invoke Proposition C, which would trigger arbitration between the sides, at any moment.
“If the City believes that mediation will better assist the parties in reaching the goal of a new collective bargaining agreement, then we will listen to the City and participate in mediation,” Ricky J. Poole, the lead union negotiator, wrote in a letter sent along with the proposal.
He gave the City a deadline of noon Saturday to respond. Jeff Londa, chief negotiator for the City, signed the extension agreement Saturday.
“We are encouraged the Fire Union accepted our proposal for mediation,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement Sunday. “By involving a neutral third party we have a better opportunity to reach a resolution that is fair to both our firefighters and our taxpayers.”
In November 2018, voters approved Proposition C, which allows the union to unilaterally declare an impasse in negotiations and force the deal to be decided by a panel of professional arbitrators. Underlying state law requires both sides to declare the deadlock after negotiations had started, but the union could have invoked Prop C since the first day of negotiations and could at any time until a deal is reached – and still can.
Under State law, negotiations reach an impasse after 60 days – when the two sides must agree to an extension, mitigation, or arbitration. The 61st day for these talks is Monday. The union also has the right to take contract terms to District Court for a judge to decide.
The City and San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association swapped proposals regarding different paths forward earlier this week. The City’s team asked if the union would agree to delaying negotiations until 2021 or take part in mediation sessions. The union’s team proposed a 15-day extension of current negotiation terms. City Attorney Andy Segovia sent a compromise proposal on Thursday that agreed to the extension, with the condition that the union participate in two days of talks with a mediator.
Poole has said the two sides are not close enough on critical issues of wages, health care, and contract term for mediation sessions to be fruitful. Court-ordered mediation sessions in 2017 between them were not successful. Video of those sessions is available online at the City’s website.
Mediation is typically private and nonbinding. A binding arbitration process would produce a contract that both sides would be forced to agree to, and the meetings could be open to the public.
Roseanna Garza contributed to this report.