Negotiators for the City of San Antonio offered the San Antonio Police Officers Association a new wage and benefits package Tuesday that adds $22.4 million to a proposed three-year contract.
The offer came at the start of the third consecutive collective bargaining session in as many weeks. It began with cordial handshakes and agreement to meet again on Oct. 14 and Oct. 21. No one is saying a new deal is imminent, but the tensions evident in bargaining sessions held in the early summer that continued through the City Council’s budget review in August and September seem greatly diminished now.
The two sides appear to be drawing closer, session by session, on proposed wage increases and bonuses for the rank and file in return for union members enrolling in one of three benefits plans that will let the City rein in runaway health care costs for uniform employees.
Other issues, however, have yet to be addressed in any detail and pose a separate challenge to achieving compromise: The City wants to eliminate several other contract items, while union leaders regard the targeted perks as hard-fought gains that are part of the total compensation package. One is the City’s annual $1.5 million contribution to a union legal fund that members use to cover personal legal expenses, including any criminal charges members incur as well as divorce proceedings.
The two sides are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the five-year contract that expired on Sept. 30, although that contract contains an “evergreen clause” that keeps the contract terms in effect for up to 10 years if a new agreement is not reached. That’s another provision the City wants to eliminate, and it wants the next contract to extend only for three years, while the union wants another five-year deal.
The City wants to end the practice of police officers taking home official vehicles, and is offering to pay those holding the rank of lieutenant or higher a $300-a-month car allowance in lieu of a take-home vehicle.
Finally, the City wants to end general tuition reimbursements unless the course of study is work-related; even then, annual contributions would be limited to $1,000. Right now the City reimburses unlimited tuition costs, and union members are using the benefit to cover everything from law school to air conditioning repair courses.
The union’s lead negotiator, Georgetown attorney Ron DeLord, said each of these proposed changes by the City represent major changes to the total compensation package, and will have to be addressed in future sessions. DeLord has said a new deal probably can’t be reached before December, while Jeff Londa, the City’s lead negotiator, believes a new contract can be finalized this month.
The City’s new wage and benefits offer increases the annual contribution to each uniform employee’s health care package by about $1,000. At the outset, the City had hoped to reduce health care spending on police and firefighters from about $14,400 a year per uniform employee to the $7,200 it spends on its civilian employees and their annual health care coverage.
The 2015 budget, which went into effect on Oct. 1 at the start of a new fiscal year, contains a placeholder figure of $10,000 per union employee. Londa said the $10,000 figure was a compromise between the two sums that would allow Council to hold public safety spending to 66.5% of the general budget. A proposal put forward by the union at a previous bargaining session would cost the City $12,200 per uniformed employee, according to Londa.
The City’s new offer takes that $10,000 figure and, in effect, increases it by almost 10%.
Here are the elements of the wage proposal:
- All uniform employees would receive a lump sum bonus of 1.5% of their total 2014 pay, which ended Sept. 30, if a new contract goes into effect by Jan. 1, 2014. The bonus would be paid in December. Total pay includes base pay, longevity pay, supplemental pay and overtime.
- All uniform employees would receive a 1% increase in base pay and a $1,000 bonus on Oct. 1, 2015, the start of the City’s next fiscal year.
- All uniform employees would receive a 2% increase in base pay on Oct. 1, 2016.
- Union members are being offered three different health care plans: a Legacy Plan, a Value Plan and a Consumer-Driven Plan.
- Uniform employees who pick the Consumer-Driven Plan, the most economical of the three health care plans, would receive a lump sum payment of $2,000 into a tax-free health care savings account. Any funds not used in that first year would carry over into the contract’s second and third years, when additional lump sums payments of $1,000 per year would be added. The account would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015 with the new contract.
“The proposal you have in front of you has premiums that we think are very favorable,” Londa said, noting that union members who selected the Consumer-Driven plan will pay no premiums while Value Plan members would pay a premium only for their spouse and dependents. The Legacy Plan includes modest premiums that start at $100 a month for the union member and rise to $407.88 for a union member with a spouse and multiple children in the plan.
Buddy Morris, the City’s benefits plan expert, said the City’s proposed bonuses offset almost all potential health care costs the union members will incur.
“We said at the outset that we would share any health savings with the employees,” said Londa. “We believe this proposal shares with the employees, getting 67 percent of the health savings.”
DeLord saw it differently, believing any new health care costs should be covered by pay increases. After caucusing with union leaders for less than a half hour, DeLord said the union would respond in detail next Tuesday, Oct. 14 when the two sides meet for an afternoon session at 1 p.m.
“On the public record, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: We are not in a recession,” DeLord said, indicating that the union expects higher wage increases. “The city is not Detroit…We are not going to make concessions just to make concessions.”
Londa agreed the economy is not the issue.
“We are in an unfortunate situation, not related to the economy, but with a health plan whose cost is growing annually at a 27% rate,” Londa said.
*Featured/top image: (File photo) Co-counsel for the City Bettye Lynn of Fort Worth (left) describes various contract adjustments to police union representatives with (from left) Laurie Steward, former City Attorney Michael Bernard, and First Assistant City Attorney Martha Sepeda. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
See all stories related to the current contract negotiations here.