City of San Antonio officials on Friday rejected a police union proposal they said would put the burden on the city to prove why a fired police officer should not be returned to the force.
The two sides made little additional progress on a new labor contract during their 20th negotiation meeting and the first after the existing contract expired.
But the end of the contract on Sept. 30 was not a deadline to finalize a new one.
A so-called evergreen clause allows most of the terms of the now-expired contract to continue for eight years. During that time, however, base pay raises for union members will halt and they will continue to pay increased health insurance premiums each year.
“In my career here [over] 21 years, we’ve never had a contract [finalized] before evergreen,” said Christopher Lutton, who chairs the San Antonio Police Officer Association’s negotiation committee, noting that both sides predicted the evergreen clause would be triggered this round.
Disciplinary procedures for officer misconduct have been the main focus of talks: the city wants more accountability for misconduct and to rein in the power that third-party arbitrators have in the appeals process.
Last week, the police union proposed a system that officials said would remove the burden of proof from the stage in the process that determines whether an officer is fit to return to the force after the police chief fires them.
It is the city’s burden to prove misconduct has occurred, so it should be the officer’s burden to demonstrate why they shouldn’t be fired, said Liz Provencio, first assistant city attorney.
The union proposal would have both the city and the officer present evidence to the arbitrator, who would then decide whether the officer could be reinstated after being fired by the police chief.
City negotiators on Friday said the union’s proposed language assigns the burden to the city — a nonstarter for the city, which wants more weight given to the chief’s decision to fire an officer. The city has already agreed to take on the burden of proof when it comes to whether the misconduct occurred.
“[The union’s proposal] doesn’t change the paradigm, in our opinion, of where we are currently, it just creates additional layers that the city has to prove,” said Liz Provencio, first assistant city attorney, said during the meeting.
Lutton said the union will likely return next week with new language for that particular section of the contract. They are slated to meet on Oct. 8.
“We’re still trying to figure out what this looks like for both parties going forward,” Lutton told the San Antonio Report after the meeting, adding that they want to find a process that the city, union members, and the community can have confidence in.
Beyond adjusting the arbitration process, the city hopes to reach agreements on several other aspects of discipline. That includes what evidence an officer can review before they are interrogated for misconduct. The city wants to withhold witness statements and other testimony, allowing the officer to only view bodycam footage and GPS data.
The city would also like to remove a six-month statute of limitations for major offenses and how much of an officer’s record can be used to decide that officer’s punishment and appeal. In previous meetings, the union seemed open to both of those proposals.
The city presented suggested changes and highlighted areas of agreement in the chapters that outline these disciplinary rules to the union on Friday.
“We wanted to start talking holistically about discipline” instead of focusing on arbitration alone, said María Villagómez, the deputy city manager leading the city’s negotiation team
Villagómez observed that the union team seems willing to do that, she said. “From that perspective, it’s promising.”
Wages and health care, two other major components of the new contract, have yet to be resolved.
The two sides agreed to extend the negotiation period through Oct. 9 and may continue to extend it in 15-day increments indefinitely.