Relations between San Antonio’s police and firefighters union and the City of San Antonio, already badly frayed, are about to get worse if you believe the union Facebook postings.
Both the San Antonio Police Officers Association and the San Antonio Firefighters Association are using social media to exhort members to come to City Hall Thursday at 9 a.m. in a show of force before City Council votes on the 2015 proposed budget, which includes cuts in health care benefits for both unions.
This was posted on an SAFD Facebook page devoted to raising awareness of heightened levels of cancer diagnosed in firefighters:
ATTENTION ALL FIREFIGHTERS, FAMILY, FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS:
WE NEED YOUR PRESENCE —
DATE: THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2014
LOCATION: CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS, AT THE CORNER OF MAIN AND COMMERCE
THE BIGGEST AND MOST PRESSING THREAT RIGHT NOW IS: CITY MANAGER SCULLEY UNILATERALLY PUTTING US ON THE ALTERNATE HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN VIA CITY COUNCIL VOTE. WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN SO WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK.
WE HOPE TO BE DONE BY 1PM (OR BEFORE). IF THE CITY COUNCIL IS GOING TO VOTE TO CHANGE OUR HEALTH CARE COVERAGE, WE NEED THEM TO LOOK US IN THE FACE WHILE DOING IT. IF THEY DO NOT CHANGE OUR HEALTH CARE COVERAGE, WE NEED TO BE THERE TO SHOW THEM OUR APPRECIATION.
BRING EVERYONE OUT AND WE WILL GIVE YOU A PURPLE CANCER AWARENESS T-SHIRT. BRING A RED TARGET SHIRT JUST IN CASE WE RUN OUT. WE ORDERED 400.
PD SAYS THEY HAVE 513 RSVP’S. LETS MOBILIZE AND SHOW OUR SUPPORT.
A more subdued posting appeared on the SAPOA Facebook page:
“This Thursday, September 18th, the brothers and sisters of the San Antonio Police Officers Association and the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association will be rallying at City Council Chambers for the regular City Council meeting at 9 a.m. to show support for public safety and the uniformed officers who protect us every day. Be early to grab a chair. We must speak loudly in one clear voice to STAND UP FOR PUBLIC SAFETY.”
It’s been more than three months since negotiators for the City of San Antonio and San Antonio Police Officers Association engaged in formal collective bargaining talks. The San Antonio Firefighters Association has yet to come to the table.
Contracts for both unions expire on Sept. 30, and while evergreen clauses keep current levels of pay and benefits in place, City Council has the authority to reduce those costs if it is otherwise unable to achieve a balanced budget. City staff and City Council have agreed the rising costs of health care benefits and pensions must be offset by union acceptance of benefits cuts. Uniform police and firefighters currently do not pay any insurance premiums, standard co-pays or have to worry about out-of-pockets costs typical of most plans.
City Council will vote on the 2015 proposed budget Thursday, which includes $8.5 million of uniform health care plan savings. Put another way, the budget assumes that the unions will come to the table soon and accept a less rich plan.
The actual budgeted sum would allocate $10,000 a year to cover health care costs for each uniform police officer and firefighter, well above the $7,300 the City spent on its civilian workers in 2013. The City spent $12,424 for each uniform officer last year. That number was predicted to rise 20% to $14,868 this year.
Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council have agreed to cap public safety costs at 66.5% of the general budget. The $10,000 allocation enables City staff to achieve that cap. Without the cuts, public safety costs were rising at a rate that would equal 100% of the general budget by 2030.
A City-appointed task force issued a report earlier this year that supported staff predictions about the rising costs and recommended that uniform personnel begin paying monthly premiums, standard office and prescription co-pays, use in-network physicians and reduce emergency room visits to contain costs.
The two unions, however, are waging a public relations war in lieu of negotiating. A SAPOA video released last month compared City-police union negotiations with the Battle of the Alamo, and predicted dire consequences for police unions everywhere if cuts are imposed on the local union.
Two different polls have shown 70% of San Antonio residents believe police and fire should pay a fair share of their health care costs, but the unions apparently believe a highly staged show of force in Council chambers will somehow win them ground in the fight, either with Council members or the public.
The City and SAPOA actually have a sit-down meeting scheduled for Sept. 23, although a return to serious negotiations is unlikely. Many observers believe the contract will expire on Sept. 30, triggering City benefits cuts on Oct. 1, the first day of the new fiscal year and budget. That, in turn, would probably lead the unions to file a lawsuit.
On Wednesday, the City released a letter it sent to the SAFD attorney Rickey J. Poole proposing the start of negotiations on Sept. 24, and Poole’s reply stating that he is unavailable. The City letter from Fort Worth attorney Bettye Lynn, a member of the City’s negotiating team, noted that her June 18 letter to Poole went unanswered.
SAFD, meanwhile, hit City staff with a Freedom of Information Act record request that didn’t seem germane to pending talks. The City ultimately assembled 92,000 documents and provided them to the firefighters union in response to the FOI request. City spokesperson Di Galvan said the City has sent eight different letters to the firefighters union to date in an unsuccessful effort to jump-start talks between the two sides.
*Featured/top image: City Council Chambers. Photo by Scott Ball.
See all stories related to the current contract negotiations here.