The San Antonio police union argues that the current collective bargaining process is a way to institute needed reforms within the San Antonio Police Department. But grassroots organization Fix SAPD sees it as a barrier to holding police officers accountable for bad behavior.

Representatives from the San Antonio Police Officers Association, Fix SAPD, and the City of San Antonio met Thursday for a forum at Trinity University to discuss Proposition B, which would repeal Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code. That allows the police union to collectively bargain for a labor contract that covers discipline, wages, and health care benefits.

Thursday’s forum was hosted by the San Antonio Report, KSAT, and Bexar Facts, which published polling results Tuesday that measured public opinion on local issues such as the police department and Proposition B. Those surveyed were split on Prop B – 34% said they would support it, 39% said they would vote against it, and 28% said they were undecided.

Fix SAPD gathered enough petition signatures to put Prop B on the May 1 ballot, all with the goal of ensuring discipline processes keep “bad apples” out of the police force, organization member James Dykman said Thursday. But attorney Rachel Barnes, who is a member of the San Antonio Police Officers Association’s contract negotiation team, said that the best way to address issues raised by Fix SAPD would be to keep Chapter 174 in place.

“If they actually wanted reforms, collective bargaining is the way to get those reforms, and it’s the faster, more efficient way to get those reforms,” Barnes said. “We’ve been talking about them at the table already.”

Voters adopted Chapter 174 in 1974, and San Antonio is the only major city in Texas to operate with that in place. Fix SAPD organizers say that repealing it would allow the City to move to a meet-and-confer process, which they prefer because it gives voters some say in the final labor contract, Dykman said at Thursday’s forum.

“It means we still have great wages, great benefits because cities with meet and confer still have that,” Dykman said.

Barnes challenged the efficacy of meet and confer. If Chapter 174 is repealed, the City would revert to a chapter of the government code San Antonio voters adopted in 1947. That system would alter how local firefighters and police officers are hired and fired, instituting a civil service commission to oversee personnel decisions.

“Either the City Council has to vote to approve and engage in meet and confer or there has to be a vote of the electorate, so …  it’s not an automatic default to meet and confer if 174 is repealed,” City Attorney Andy Segovia explained.

However, the City recognizes that it needs to recruit and retain the best employees, regardless of whether 174 is in place or not, Segovia said.

“I would imagine we would maintain competitive compensation, competitive health programs, just like we would any other City employee,” he said.

Voters will decide on the fate of SAPD’s collective bargaining rights in the upcoming municipal elections. Early voting starts April 19.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.