This story has been updated.
A slim margin of San Antonio voters Saturday rejected Proposition B, which would have stripped the police union of its ability to collectively bargain in the same way it has for decades.
Voters strongly supported Proposition A, which will change the City charter to expand how bond funding can be used to include affordable housing and other “public purposes.”
According to final, unofficial results, 48.8% of voters supported Prop B compared with 51.2 % who voted against the measure, defeating the ballot item by nearly 3,500 votes.
Many San Antonians who cast votes in other races chose not to vote either way on Proposition B. There were 1,553 “undervotes” tallied.
“First and foremost, it’s a victory for the citizens of San Antonio,” said Danny Diaz, president of the police union, the San Antonio Police Officers Association. “It was hard-fought, and the citizens have spoken. So now it’s time to get back to work.”
One leader with Fix SAPD, which got Prop B on the ballot, said the group is considering calling for a recount. The policing reform group formed last summer during the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd.
More than 58% of voters approved of Prop A, while a little more than 41% were opposed. More than 6,000 voters decided not to vote on that measure, which had received less attention during this election season. The ballot language, too, may have left some confused.
Prop A’s passage means the kinds of projects that can be included in new bond programs will expand. Currently, only projects such as roadway improvements and parks are allowed as “public works,” and San Antonio is the only major Texas city that restricts bond money to public works.
The approval of Prop A means bond money can be used for a “public purpose,” such as funding affordable housing. Projects in bond packages still will require voter approval.
Prop B would have repealed San Antonio’s adoption of Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code, which grants the union its collective bargaining rights. Passage would not have disbanded the San Antonio Police Officers Association nor removed all paths for it to negotiate new labor contracts.
Activists pushing for approval of Prop B, including Fix SAPD, said the collective bargaining process results in contract provisions that allow cops fired for misconduct to return to the force.
San Antonio Police Officers Association leaders had said the changes to collective bargaining, had Prop B passed, would have meant fewer job protections and effectively resulted in “defunding” benefits for police, making it harder to attract qualified officers.
Prop B would not have directly “defunded” the police, but it could have resulted in a reduction of specialized pay increases outlined in the current contract, which expires at the end of September.
“Oct. 1, if there’s no [contract] in place, if somebody calls 911, a police officer is going to show up,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said during a recent panel. If the proposition had been approved, police still would have been prohibited under state law from striking and protected from lockouts.
A gathering at the warehouse for Blue Cares, the union’s charitable arm, was subdued most of Saturday evening until the final results were read aloud just before 11:30 p.m. Volunteers wore “Vote Against Prop B” and unloaded campaign yard signs and coolers from trucks, back from polling locations across the city.
The victory does not change anything in terms of what the union is pushing for in current contract negotiations, which will resume after the union sets meeting dates with the City, Diaz said.
“We’re coming to the table with all sorts of things to change what they’ve asked for,” he said. “We’ve made those adjustments. … The city just sat back and waited to see what this [election] outcome is going to be.”
Meanwhile, at the Friendly Spot Ice House, Fix SAPD Deputy Director Ananda Tomas popped the dozens of yellow balloons that had decorated the back room of the popular Southtown watering hole.
“The work continues because we know that this is what the community wants,” Tomas said earlier Saturday evening. “I think we’ve changed the conversation of policing and police reform in San Antonio and really brought a focus to this is what happens in your contract negotiations.”
Fix SAPD co-founder Ojiyoma Martin said the group will “stay vigilant” and monitor the current negotiations.
“This is as good as any indicator as to what the city should be doing and what they should be focused on – that they should really hold firm in their position that accountability adjustments need to be made in the current contract,” she said. “Disciplinary reform needs to be made.”
While progress has been made on several key issues, the remaining sticking point continues to be the appeals process for officers accused of misconduct.
Diaz bristled at the City’s state legislative agenda, which includes advocacy for police reform bills that would potentially override the contract.
“That’s not coming to bargain in good faith,” he said but added that it doesn’t mean they won’t come back to the bargaining table.
If Chapter 174 were repealed, police still would have had employment protections under Chapter 143, which sets up a baseline of employment terms for both police and fire and contains some of the same disciplinary rules that Fix SAPD and negotiators for the City of San Antonio find problematic. Fix SAPD was unable to get a repeal of Chapter 143 on the ballot this year and could continue those efforts.
“Now you have the firefighters union that are going to be caught into that, possibly Bexar County [Sheriff’s Department], and the State of Texas,” Diaz said. “So if you’re wanting to repeal 143, you might want to second guess that because there’s a lot of people that are involved [who would be impacted].”
The City can’t override the disciplinary rules outlined in Chapter 143 without a “meet and confer” agreement with the union.
At that point, the union would have several legal options within state law to set up a meet-and-confer process to negotiate a contract. It alternatively could choose to operate under Chapter 143.
The critical difference between collective bargaining under 174 and meet and confer is that an earnest effort at contract negotiation is required by both sides under Chapter 174. Under meet-and-confer laws, the City is not required to negotiate, giving the City a significant upper hand.
All other major Texas cities – Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth – use meet and confer to arrive at a contract with its police officers. San Antonio’s park and airport police also negotiate through meet and confer.