The Georgetown lawyer hired Friday to represent the San Antonio Police Officers Association in collective bargaining talks with the City of San Antonio said the two sides will meet on April 29, two days after Fiesta ends.
“As far as I know, we are set for April 29, and from my side of the curtain we’ll probably be ready to have a session on health care benefits,” said Ron DeLord, the newly hired attorney for the union. DeLord has replaced Austin attorney Craig Deats, who represented the union in the first three rounds of talks and then was abruptly let go last week without any announcement by the union.
DeLord’s first step representing the union was to send a letter via email late Friday afternoon canceling today’s planned bargaining session on health care benefits and advising attorneys representing the city that all other preset dates for talks in April and May also were being canceled. Houston attorney Jeff Londa, representing the city, replied to DeLord, saying the unilateral cancellations violated the Ground Rules agreement signed by both parties in March.
DeLord’s commitment to the April 29 session, made today, appears to put the talks back on track as both sides work toward a new agreement to replace the current contract that expires on Sept. 30.
“Ron De Lord is an experienced negotiator and we’ve sat across the table from one another on a number of occasions,” said Fort Worth attorney Bettye Lynn, the other lead attorney on the city’s team. “I look forward to meeting with him and addressing the issues on the table.”
DeLord also struck a conciliatory note in a Tuesday interview. “I’ve spoken to Bettye Lynn today and we are going to have another conversation Friday and hopefully we can get a process going,” DeLord said. “I hope we can bring something substantive to the table and get something going. I’ll be up to speed by then.”
DeLord, a former policeman, police historian and author who blogs and broadcasts on Internet radio, has a long history of representing police unions. He served as the president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) from 1977 to 2008, which posted a story on its website Tuesday praising DeLord’s entry into the negotiations.
Read his blog: The Gospel According to DeLord.
“Current negotiations between the San Antonio Police Officers Association and the city have become increasingly tense, and have stalled with no forward progress. We’d like to change the direction of the talks,” said Charley Wilkison, Executive Director of CLEAT, the state’s largest law enforcement organization.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley has issued several warnings in recent years to City Council that the city cannot sustain its current rate of public safety spending. San Antonio currently spends 66.5 percent of its General Fund budget, which is nearly $1 billion, on uniformed personnel. That number was only 36 percent when the city’s first collective bargaining agreement was struck with police and fire fighters in 1975-76. Other Texas cities spend substantially less.
Sculley told City Council last year that public safety costs would eat up 100 percent of the General Fund by 2031, driven by rising health care costs, and pre-funded retiree health care benefits and pension obligations.
Mayor Julián Castro then appointed the City’s Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force last August, which recently presented its findings to City Council. Union representatives on the task force issued a minority report.