This story has been updated.
City of San Antonio and police union officials on Wednesday came to a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract that includes strengthened police disciplinary measures and significant pay raises for officers.
If ratified by union membership, then by City Council, the contract would go into effect and run through September 2026. Ratification of the current, expired contract took almost three months.
Negotiators for each side signed five tentative agreements on Wednesday, representing the last lingering issues from the more than one-year negotiation process regarding wages, the statute of limitation rules for misconduct, evidence that an officer accused of misconduct can review and leave pay.
“This agreement compensates our officers for the great work they do, while ensuring that the disciplinary process is fair and balanced for our Police Chief to address officer misconduct,” City Manager Erik Walsh said in an email.
“I want to thank the San Antonio Police Officers Association for their good faith negotiations. I hope this sets a new standard of what is possible when the City and the Union work together towards a greater goal. Both parties came to the table with priorities and a genuine willingness to negotiate, and I believe both parties achieved what they set out to accomplish.”
Under the proposed 140-page contract, union members would receive a 2% lump-sum signing bonus this year, a 3.5% base pay increase in 2023 and 2024, and a 4% base pay increase in the remaining two years.
The increase would make local police officers among the highest paid in the state, second to Austin, a city spokeswoman said.
“Our members were looking for financial increases, and I believe we got that for them,” Sgt. Christopher Lutton, lead negotiator for the union, told reporters. “And I believe at the same time, we also address some of the concerns of the city and the citizens.”
While cutting health care costs was the top priority for the city in the 2016-2021 contract, disciplinary reform has taken center stage this round. The renewed push for disciplinary reform comes after protests sparked by the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, but also represents unfinished business from the previous tumultuous contract negotiations.
Disciplinary rules apply to administrative misconduct, not criminal offenses.
The two sides reached consensus on several elements of the discipline process, chief among them are the rules that an arbitrator has to follow in order to rehire a fired officer.
Under the proposed terms, if the city proves both that misconduct occurred and the officer’s misconduct is detrimental to the department, then an arbitrator can’t overturn the police chief’s decision to fire an officer.
The police chief, not the arbitrator, gets to decide what behavior is detrimental, said First Assistant City Attorney Liz Provencio, a member of the city’s negotiating team.
If an arbitrator goes beyond their authority and doesn’t follow those rules, Provencio said. “That’s going to be grounds [for the city] to appeal to a district court.”
The city currently has the ability to appeal, but this new language sets specific parameters for an arbitrator to follow and narrows their authority.
Currently, arbitrators are permitted to consider only the previous two years of the officer’s personnel record to make a decision. The chief can look back 10 years for drug and alcohol-related issues, five years for acts of intentional violence, and two years for all other infractions in determining how severely to discipline an officer. The union and city have agreed that an officer’s full record of prior violations should be considered.
The two sides agreed that the new language is more likely to prevent fired officers — who should be fired — from getting their jobs back.
“I believe if you look at your process, and you make adjustments to make the process better, that it leads to better outcomes,” Lutton said.
Another key element of disciplinary reform the city sought was adjusting the so-called “180 day rule,” which essentially let officers off the hook for any infractions that occurred more than 180 days prior to discipline.
The new proposal uses the discovery rule, meaning the chief has 180 days to punish an officer once leaders in the department find out about the violation — within a two-year statute of limitation.
When asked how the union membership, roughly 2,300 officers, will react to the proposal, Lutton said he didn’t know.
“Overall, package-wise, there’s something for everybody,” he said. “Just like everything else, you have to figure out which [terms] are beneficial for you, and which may not even apply to you. So, I think we’ve given a majority of the officers something [to] vote yes on.”
Lutton expects membership to vote on the contract sometime in April.
Deputy City Manager María Villagómez said she hopes to have City Council vote before this summer.
“We have been keeping our council abreast of the changes,” Villagómez said.
The city’s negotiating team took its cues from the community and from council to lay out the priorities for this round of contract talks in January, she noted. “What we have achieved today reflects those priorities and the direction that we got from council last year.”
The negotiation process for the current contract has taken more than two years so far, and was stalled for months in response to a legal challenge brought by the city.
The two sides have also agreed to continue increases to members’ health care premiums by 10% each year.
Previously, representatives for the city and union signed tentative agreements on a dozen other terms within the proposed contract, including protocols surrounding promotions, cadet hiring, supplemental benefits, officer safety and equipment.
An evergreen clause allowed most of the terms of the current contract, which expired on Sept. 30, 2021, to continue. During that time, however, base pay raises for union members stopped and they continued to pay increased health insurance premiums each year.
The eight-year evergreen clause remains in the proposed contract.
Correction: This article has been updated to accurately reflect annual pay increases.