If the headline on this story strikes you as a bit aggressive and unfair on my part in describing the San Antonio Police Officers Association and its pursuit of a new collective bargaining agreement, let me tell you who actually wrote it. His name is Ron DeLord. He’s a Georgetown attorney who will appear Tuesday as the new chief negotiator representing the police union.
The headline is actually the title of a police union tactics textbook DeLord co-authored, “Police Union Power, Politics, And Confrontation in the 21st Century.”
I know it’s a textbook because the Rivard Report paid a hefty $52.20 for a soft cover copy on Amazon. The updated “Second Edition” was published in 2008, more than a decade after the 1997 release of the first edition, “Police Association Power, Politics, and Confrontation.” Only book collectors and authors pay much attention to a book’s edition, but in this case it’s notable for reasons beyond the change in title.
One big difference between the two editions is that Chapter 36, titled “Building Police Association Power-The San Antonio Experience,” has been removed. Fortunately, we found someone with a copy, and a Rivard Report story on that chapter will appear Monday on our site. Its author was none other than disgraced San Antonio police sergeant Harold Flammia, who rose to become the president and power broker of the police union in 1985, and who is married to now retired SAPD Deputy Chief Rosemary Flammia.
In May 1998, less than one year after the book was first published, Harold Flammia pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud and money laundering and was sentenced to a 55-month federal prison term after federal agents uncovered $500,000 in kickbacks to Flammia from attorneys hired to manage the union’s lucrative legal fund. Flammia was ordered to repay the misappropriated funds as a condition of his plea agreement. Four lawyers also pleaded guilty in the case.
That’s probably why Chapter 36 disappeared from the second edition of DeLord’s book.
Nearly a decade later, Rosemary Flammia was passed over for promotion by San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, prompting a discrimination lawsuit in 2007, and she later was demoted to the rank of captain. The suit was settled out of court in 2010 with Flammia receiving a $249,000 cash settlement and retirement at her full deputy rank after City Council decided a protracted lawsuit carried a potentially higher cost. Then-City Attorney Michael Bernard said McManus had acted appropriately, but a settlement was preferable to a protracted trial and allowed a reform-minded McManus to maintain his reorganization of the department’s management ranks.
Harold Flammia became the SAPOA president in 1988 and helped win the now-infamous police contract that gave uniformed personnel in San Antonio a vastly richer health care benefits and pension plan than civilian employees enjoy. Uniformed personnel in San Antonio pay no premiums for their health care, enjoy reduced co-pays and pay minimum out-of-pocket sums for medical treatment.
San Antonio is the only city in Texas that treats its uniformed and civilian personnel as two classes of employees. One of the more unconventional benefits in the Flammia-era contract was the creation of a union legal fund that members could draw on to cover personal legal expenses. Union members can divorce spouses, defend themselves in lawsuits, and update their wills, all at city expense. The perk survives to this day.
Houston labor lawyer Jeff Londa, representing San Antonio, has proposed eliminating the fund. Currently the city contributes $31 a month into the legal fund for every one of the 2,375 police officers. That perk costs taxpayers $911,000 a year for police, and $1.55 million when the city’s 1,663 uniformed fire fighters are included. To this day, Sculley and other city officials do not know how much money has accumulated in the fund, although they have asked union officials to publicly release the number.
Both police and fire union contracts expire at the end of September. The city and police union opened negotiations on a new contract in March and meet for the fourth time Tuesday, which will be DeLord’s first appearance on the union’s behalf this go-around. The city and the fire union have not opened negotiations yet, and a lawsuit against the city filed by the fire union has cast doubt on when those talks might start.
It’s the latest, five-year iteration of that 1988 contract that City Manager Sheryl Sculley has long argued eventually will consume the entire General Fund budget if rising health care and pension costs are ignored and contract terms are not renegotiated. Both sides are expected to present proposals on Tuesday to address the issue.
Mayor Julián Castro appointed the Health Care and Retirement Benefits Task Force last year, which issued a report earlier this year in support of Sculley’s financial projections and her call for a renegotiated benefits package equal to that provided civilian employees. City Council voted in support of the task force report in March.
The next round of negotiations between the City of San Antonio and SAPOA is set to take place Tuesday, 10 a.m. at City Hall. The meetings are open to the public.
DeLord will be making his first appearance after the police union officials fired their previous chief negotiator, Austin lawyer Craig Deats, without disclosing the reasons behind the termination. DeLord is no stranger to San Antonio or the police union contract. He’s been involved in the renewal of the contract twice before now, according to attorneys watching the negotiations. Since publication of the book in 1997, he has become a nationally-recognized authority on police unions and contract negotiations. He’s folksy and mediagenic, with his own weekly Internet radio broadcast, but as the book clearly demonstrates, he plays hardball.
The book focuses on how police unions can win and then defend compensation and benefits packages, even in the face of increasing evidence that such packages are not financially viable for cities.
DeLord is listed as lead author alongside John Burpo, Michael Shannon and Jim Spearing. In the preface to the second edition, the authors note that they meet once in year in las Vegas “to train police labor leaders on the principles of building and using power, becoming politically active, and when and how to engage in confrontation.”
They cite four challenges that arose after publication of the 1997 book that required a new edition (sub-headlines below are the authors):
The First Challenge: Police Officers Are Well-Paid Compared to Others in the Community
The authors note that police officers in major cities often earn in excess of $100,000 a year, along with benefits packages that greatly exceed those enjoyed by “other workers in the community.”
“Police unions must depend on public support for their pursuit of better wages and benefits; and support becomes more difficult when other workers in the community make considerably less in wages; pay high monthly premiums for substandard health insurance; and are struggling for economic survival. As one police labor leader told a co-author recently when discussing the possibility of a public fight with the city over a contract, ‘I can’t do it – we don’t want the public to know how much we make.’ ”
The Second Challenge: Holding on to Active and Retiree Health Care and Pension Benefits
“The escalating cost of active and retiree health care and underfunded pensions in the public sector is the 500 pound gorilla in the room. The private sector has been wrestling with this issue for years…if any police union leader reading this book believes that this development is only a problem in the private sector and that it will never happen to the cops, then you’re just not paying attention. Every day, somewhere in the country, some public official is talking about how employee health care benefits cost are too generous, premiums are too low, retiree health care is out of control, or the pension plan is underfunded. Public administrators have begun to realize that the costs of employee health care and pensions are no longer sustainable at current levels, and that other options must be explored….The City of San Antonio has made active and retiree health care cost sharing by officers the number one priority in the last two contract negotiations and caused serious friction not only between the police union and the City, but internally among union members as well.”
The Third Challenge: The Police Profession is Rapidly Changing, and Police Unions Are All Too Often Sitting on the Sidelines
“The world of policing is fluid, with new issues always coming to the forefront. Some of the issues in recent years have included civilianization of previously sworn position, staffing, recruitment, new technologies, and career ladders that will retain officers who otherwise would be peaked out at the top of their salary range. These issues baffle and paralyze some police union leaders. They often sit idly by or mindlessly obstruct management initiatives by police administrators without thinking about how to effectively respond to the rapid changes that are taking place in the police profession.”
The Fourth Challenge: You Are Not the Only One Reading This Book!
Our first book and this one have been written as a guide for leaders that will make their police union more powerful so they can achieve the goals that will benefit their members. Just remember though that the public officials sitting across the bargaining table have probably read the book too, because they want to be prepared for whatever the union will pull out of its bag of tricks next.
“After the publication of our first book, several police contract disputes that the co-authors were involved in became heated to the point that public officials called press conferences and pointed to parts of the book to demonstrate the tactics that the police unions were employing. These media events involved considerable condemnation of the co-authors as a bunch of bomb-throwers and rabble-rousers. We were all greatly appreciative of these calls of attention to our book because every time it happened book sales spiked!”
Tuesday’s negotiations open, then, with DeLord and his co-authors effectively defining the issues exactly as Sculley and her team have defined them. What remains to be seen is how DeLord will propose addressing the issues as he squares off with Londa and Fort Worth attorney Bettye Lynn, who also represents the city.
The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce has joined city officials in calling for reforms, weeks after releasing a survey showing strong public sentiment for a health care plan less costly to taxpayers. The police union countered with its own survey that officials said show the public supports the police union.
Coming Monday: The Missing Chapter: What Harold Flammia Wrote about Police Union Power in San Antonio.
*Featured/top image: City of San Antonio’s Public Safety Headquarters at 315 South San Rosa St.