Negotiating teams for the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association returned to the bargaining table Tuesday for the first time since July 17, but neither side put forward new proposals and the brief morning sessions ended only with agreement to return again Wednesday for continued talks.
The City’s five-year collective bargaining agreement with the police and fire unions expired on Sept. 30, 2014. The City and police union remain divided over the cost of health care and how the two sides will share those costs and the City’s wage proposal for a new four-year contract. The fire union has yet to come to the table to start talks.
“We’re going to spend some time in the back and over at City Hall preparing for a (new) proposal,” Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh said afterwards. “We’re going to make adjustments.”
City officials had expected a new counter proposal regarding health care plans and wage increases from the police union after the month-long break in negotiations, but SAPOA representatives presented nothing new, standing firm on their proposal that includes 16.5% in bonuses and wage increases while requiring very limited contributions of members to their dependents’ health care premiums.
Three proposals were put on the table by the City on July 17 that include union members paying a monthly premium for dependent health care coverage. The City has dropped its demand that union members also pay a monthly premium for the first time for their own health care. With the terms of the expired contract still in effect thanks to a 10-year evergreen clause, union members currently pay no premiums for themselves or their dependents. That clause is the subject of a City lawsuit challenging its legality.
The City’s proposals included a wage increase of up to 11.5% and a lump sum of 2.5% signing bonus, which officials say will keep public safety spending at or under 66% of the City’s General Fund.
Basically, the two sides are holding close to the same positions put forward in March. Now that the negotiations have extended past the July 31 deadline set by Mayor Ivy Taylor, the City has taken the bonus off the table and incorporated that $8.5 million back into the City’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget to go towards street infrastructure and maintenance.
Budget presentations are currently underway and City Council is expected to vote on the proposed budget on Sept. 10. The City’s 2016 fiscal year begins Oct. 1, 2015 and ends Sept. 30, 2016. Walsh stopped short of saying that $8.5 million bonus pool was completely off the table.
“As of right now, that money has been earmarked for street maintenance,” he said.
SAPOA President Mike Helle said removing the bonus was a negotiating tactic.
“Everything’s negotiable … you can have it on there one day and (then) take it off again,” Helle said. “It’s all part of a strategy.”
The difference in cost between the two contracts is between $27-30 million, with the police union’s contract costing about $14,504 per uniformed employee per year in health care costs compared to the City’s proposed $12,485, according to the City’s calculations.
Each side continues to disagree on how the other is calculating health care plan costs with “dueling health care consultants,” as Helle referred to it. Their numbers put their contract’s cost closer to $13,000.
The City has hired a certified actuary, Robert Jordan, to review its and the union’s numbers. His results, that find the police union’s contract costing more than they project, are consistently challenged by the union. The police union has not retained a certified actuary.
Under the current contract, the City is paying approximately $17,000 per uniformed employee. During 2016, if no new agreement isn’t reached, that will balloon to about $19,000, according to City staff. Even though the evergreen clause does not provide for any wage increases while an expired contract remains in effect, health care costs will increase enough to force City budget officers to reallocate money from other departments and projects in the City Budget.
“(Under the current contract) the whole concern was that at some point public safety expenditures would consume more and more of the budget until it consumed all of it at some point in the future,” said Jeff Coyle, director of the City’s Government and Public Affairs Department, before Tuesday’s meeting.
Talks also touched on other aspects of the contract, including the maximum mileage a police vehicle is left in service, continuing education tuition reimbursements, the status of a City-funded legal fund union members use to pay personal legal expenses, and the length of the evergreen clause.
“One circus at a time,” Walsh said when asked about the possibilities of negotiating a new evergreen clause rather than leave the issue to the courts. As for other pending issues, he said, “those are important things to us, but we’ve got to get our health care (and wages) down.”
If tradition is any guide, the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association will agree to accept the same contract terms negotiated by the police union.
*Featured/top image: City’s lead negotiator, Jeff Londa, listens as police union lawyer Ron DeLord reviews the latest police union proposal. Photo by Scott Ball.