Seven weeks after the police union paused talks with the City of San Antonio, negotiating teams met Monday for less than two hours that resulted in little to no progress toward a labor contract.
María Villagómez, the City’s deputy city manager and lead negotiator, said she was “a little disappointed” that a deeper conversation regarding officer discipline didn’t take place.
Disciplinary reform – specifically tightening the rules surrounding the appeals process for officers accused of misconduct – is the City’s highest priority in the negotiation in its effort to keep fired cops from returning to the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD).
The City wants the chief of police to have more authority in deciding which officers are no longer fit to work for him while the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) says a third-party arbitrator should continue to have the final say. The City budged slightly before talks were suspended, allowing that an arbitrator could overturn discipline found to be “arbitrary and capricious.”
On April 19, the City agreed to the union’s request to pause talks until after the May 1 election, when voters narrowly rejected a measure (Proposition B) that would have revoked the union’s current collective bargaining rights. The runoff election, which saw two incumbent council members ousted for a total of four new members, took place on Saturday.
“We just figured it’s easier to not do anything [and] wait until the council gets impaneled,” Christopher Lutton, chair of the union’s contract committee, told reporters after the meeting. “Then that way, you have kind of a good starting ground to figure out what you’re going to move forward with.”
New City Council members will be sworn in on June 15.
The results of the election – Prop B failed by less than 3 percentage points or nearly 3,500 votes – has no impact on the union’s negotiation strategy, Lutton said.
“We’re probably in the same boat where we were April 19 when we left off,” he said.
On that point, Villagómez agreed.
“We went ahead and did additional work on discipline to try to make it very clear on [Monday] what our priorities are,” Villagómez told reporters. “So I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get into more discussion of this.”
During the meeting, Villagómez provided a summary of progress and sticking points in negotiations so far. The two sides have now met 11 times since negotiations began Feb. 12.
So far, they have agreed to change the so-called 180-day rule, which says officers can’t be punished for misconduct if they aren’t disciplined within 180 days. The new contract, if approved by union membership and City Council, would shift that to 180 days after the chief finds out about a “major violation.”
They’ve also agreed that accused officers should have 24 hours’ notice – down from 48 – ahead of an interview with Internal Affairs and that officers can’t take written questions about the investigation home with them to answer.
Deep disagreements remain on how much evidence an officer can see before an interview and how much of an officer’s record can be used when considering punishment. The two sides are also still millions of dollars apart on wage and health care packages.
“The energy has not changed from previous negotiations to this one,” said James Dykman, data and policy analyst for Fix SAPD, the nonprofit that led the Prop B campaign. “The city is holding strong on balancing due process with accountability and SAPOA is maintaining the status quo.”
Fix SAPD is currently “regrouping” to determine its next steps but will be engaged in the process in some way, Dykman said. “As [the contract] moves forward, we’re still looking at the tactics and the different opportunities we have to make a change, to bring transparency, and to bring accountability to policing in San Antonio for the benefit of civilians and for the benefit of officers as well.”
Ultimately, the contract will need approval from City Council, he noted, and “this is one of the most progressive councils … that we’ve seen in San Antonio so far.”
The contract expires on Sept. 30. If an agreement isn’t reached by then, negotiations could continue under the contract’s “evergreen clause,” which keeps most of the terms in place for eight years until 2029.
If the two sides reach an impasse, a fact-finding panel composed of a representative from each side and a neutral party will be convened privately to try to reach a nonbinding contract proposal within seven days, according to City ordinance.
After one week, the proposal becomes public if they can’t reach an agreement. If they haven’t reached an agreement after another 10 days, “the major unresolved issues shall at the request of either party be submitted to a referendum election which shall be binding on the parties.”
The current contract was conceived in 2016 under court-ordered mediation as part of the City’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 10-year evergreen clause. That case was dropped, but the union agreed to an eight-year clause.
The next collective bargaining meeting will take place on June 17, and the two sides agreed on Monday to extend the negotiation timeline to June 26.