The proposed labor contract between the local police union the City of San Antonio received approval from about 86% of police union members who voted, union President Danny Diaz announced Tuesday.

The five-year, $92 million deal — which was finalized by negotiators in March — now awaits a final vote by City Council, which is scheduled for May 12.

The new contract includes major changes to the disciplinary process for officers accused of misconduct, which was the city’s top priority during negotiations.

About 66% of the roughly 2,370 members of the San Antonio Police Officers Association participated in the vote. One member abstained.

It’s unclear why some members didn’t vote, Diaz said. “Some guys are out on vacation, some were on military leave. We did our due diligence” in terms of ensuring member access. Members voted online or over the phone from April 11 through midnight on Monday.

“What I do know is that this was the most [votes] that we’ve ever seen in any election that we’ve had for our contract,” he told reporters at a press conference.

During the approval process for the existing contract, 70% of union members voted to approve. That process was marred with on-again-off-again contentious meetings and lawsuits. A deal was ultimately reached behind closed doors during court-ordered mediation.

Diaz credited both the union and the city negotiating teams’ hard work, professionalism and focus “on delivering a fair contract to police officers that protects their pay and benefits and recognizes the uniquely challenging job of law enforcement.”

If approved by City Council, officers will enjoy slightly larger wage increases over the next five years — a total of 15% in base pay increases — than the previous five-year contract, which expired in September 2021. All members will also receive a 2% bonus once the deal is approved.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement the agreement is “a fair contract that addresses concerns about disciplinary procedures and provides our officers with fair compensation and benefits. The officers’ approval is a vote of confidence in the new association leadership.”

Diaz was elected as the union’s new president early last year.

City Manager Erik Walsh said in a statement he appreciated union leadership for setting “a new standard of what is possible when the city and the union work together towards a greater goal.”

The contract would narrow the authority that a third-party arbitrator has to overturn the police chief’s decision to fire an officer, allow an officer’s entire record to be considered when the punishment for misconduct is determined and change a statute of limitation rule.

A key element in the proposed contract is that the chief decides what misconduct is detrimental to the department — making it much harder for fired cops to get their jobs back.

Diaz downplayed the impact of those rule changes, essentially describing them as clarifications to existing policy.

“People are saying ‘we protect officers that do wrong’ and this isn’t the truth,” Diaz said in Spanish to a Univision reporter. “What we have here are people who are professionals. This job, like any job, there are people who do bad things, but by no means are we protecting officers who do wrong.”

Under the narrower jurisdiction of the arbitrator, the city can more effectively appeal rulings made in arbitration to municipal court, to prevent officers deemed detrimental to the force from gaining reinstatement, city officials have said. Under the current system, an arbitrator has more leeway to overturn the chief’s decisions, for any reason.

“We’re really excited that we had made great strides on limiting the role of the arbitrator,” said Ananda Tomas, founder of police reform group ACT 4 SA.

On the other hand, Bexar County’s contract with the deputy sheriff’s union, approved in January, removes the arbitrator entirely, Tomas noted. “I hope that that’s something that they look at for the next contract negotiations.”

Also under the proposed contract, Tomas pointed out, officers will be able to use paid time off, such as vacation and sick days, to pay themselves during unpaid discipline suspensions, rendering such suspensions largely meaningless, she said.

Ananda Tomas, executive director of Act 4 SA, asks a question to San Antonio Police Officers Association President Danny Diaz during a press conference about the association approving a new police contract on Tuesday.
Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, asks San Antonio Police Officers Association President Danny Diaz a question during a press conference Tuesday announcing that the union voted to approve a new police contract. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

The contract also doesn’t include an independent civilian review board with subpoena powers and maintains an eight-year evergreen clause, which allows the contract to stay in place after expiration.

Tomas said she expects Council will approve of the contract, but said she hopes “we can drum up a few no votes, and set the terms for the next contract negotiations.”

Here is a look at more of the deal’s major provisions:

Wages

  • Within 30 days of City Council’s approval of the contract, each officer will receive a bonus payment equivalent to 2% of their total compensation during 2021.
  • In 2023 and 2024, each member will receive a 3.5% wage increase.
  • In 2025 and 2026, each member will receive a 4% wage increase
    • This means a total of 15% in base pay increases, which compound year over year.
  • Removes a clause that had obligated the city to give police officers the same pay increases as firefighters.

Disciplinary processes

  • An arbitrator can’t reduce a firing to a suspension unless the police chief fails to show that the misconduct represents a “substantial shortcoming,” meaning the violation interferes with the officer’s ability to effectively serve in the police department or that community expectations would not support them being rehired.
    • The police chief determines what behavior is detrimental to the police department.
  • There is a two-year statute of limitations to punish officer misconduct; within that timeframe, once the police chief is aware of misconduct, his office has 180 days to impose discipline.

Internal interview procedure

  • Officers will no longer be allowed to take home questions (“interrogatories”) from Internal Affairs regarding misconduct investigations.
  • Officers will be prohibited from viewing the statements of other officers involved in the incident who are also accused of misconduct. This will not include witnessing officers.
  • Officers will be given 24 hours notice, down from 48 hours, that they will be interviewed by Internal Affairs.
  • Officers can be questioned for a total of eight hours instead of six.

Other terms

  • Increased training hours from 80 to 120 per year.
  • Resident points for cadet applicants living in San Antonio increased from 1 to 5, to encourage officers to live within city limits. Currently, 52% of uniform employees live within the city of San Antonio.
  • Police chief has discretion to approve or deny leave based on department needs.
  • Officers leaving SAPD would have the option to set up a deferred compensation account instead of taking a lump-sum payout for their accrued leave (holiday, sick leave, vacation, etc.).
  • Employees can take 240 hours of consecutive leave upon separation, half of what is allowed under the current contract.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org