Police Union negotiations. Photo by Hagen Meyer
SAPOA President Mike Helle answers questions from reporters after a July negotiation session. Photo by Hagen Meyer

San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle sent a letter to Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council on Wednesday stating that the police union is breaking off contract negotiations unless the City drops its lawsuit over the 10-year evergreen clause or the matter is decided by the court.

After 18 months of on-again, off-again talks, the two sides seemed close to an agreement just one week ago, but the progress made on wage increases and health care plans has been ultimately overshadowed by the evergreen clause, which keeps the current contract terms in place, without wage increases, until 2024 or until a new contract can be reached. The last five-year contract expired on Sept. 30, 2014.

City officials argue, in the lawsuit and at the negotiating table, that the clause impedes timely and effective contract negotiations. Members receive longevity pay and enjoy premium-free health care coverage under the current contract “in evergreen” and will continue to do so for the length of the 10-year period.

When last the two sides met last week, the City’s negotiating team offered to include a five year evergreen clause in a new contract. The police union stood firm on 10 years.

A meeting was scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m., but Helle’s letter stated, “SAPOA is taking a recess from contract negotiations … negotiations may resume should the City decide to remove the lawsuit and return to good-faith bargaining.”

Regardless of Helle’s statement, members of the City’s team will show up to the negotiation table.

Helle called on Council members to “step in and mediate this stalemate” and, as usual, painted City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s as the culprit for the breakdown in talks.

“It’s a shame that the union would walk away from a generous offer for employees because it wants to keep in place an open-ended financial obligation that created this frustrating, drawn-out conflict in the first place,” Sculley stated in a public response to Helle’s letter. “The City’s legal challenge to the evergreen clause, which was filed with the support of the City Council, is intended to make sure that the next time we have to negotiate a contract, both parties are genuinely motivated to reach an agreement.”

A request filed by Councilmember Cris Medina (D7) late last year with the support of four other council members, reflected how tensions between the City and the police union were eroding council’s prior commitment to maintain a unified front and refrain from any direct involvement in the negotiations. Medina’s request to have the council consider withdrawing the City’s lawsuit against the police union was tabled by Mayor Ivy Taylor, who also chairs the Governance Committee that declined to move the request to full council in January.

“I certainly applaud the mayor’s decision to have continued discussions in the future once we have more information, once we have a chance to see some actual data as well,” Medina said at the time. However, “having a lawsuit that looms over this entire process, I think it sends a bad signal.”

Helle also pointed to the lawsuit’s seemingly perpetual “pending” status as cause for concern. Mayor Taylor stated in a response that “pending” is exactly what the City wants.

“The City has made clear to the union leadership that its lawsuit will be dismissed upon approval of a new contract by the police officers. The City has intentionally not taken action in the lawsuit in an effort to reach a deal, which we believed was very close.”

If an “impasse” in negotiations is declared, which seems unlikely, voters could find themselves voting on a new contract, according to an ordinance passed in 1980 that has never been used or been tested by a legal challenge.

*Top image: SAPOA President Mike Helle answers questions from reporters after a July 2015 negotiation session. Photo by Hagen Meyer

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Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.

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Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...