Conversation: Prospects Bleak for City and Police Union Talks

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City (left) and police union (right) representatives during the collective bargaining meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

City (left) and police union (right) representatives during the collective bargaining meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Are the collective bargaining talks between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association headed in the wrong direction? The answer, unfortunately, seems to be yes. See my Oct. 22 report, For City and Police Union, Numbers Don’t Add Up.

The two sides are set to meet again on Monday, Nov. 3, at 1 p.m., but all signs point to impasse rather than a new deal. Why? In sum, the police union wants wage increases to exceed health care spending cuts, and the firefighters union won’t even agree to talks. A controversial 10-year “evergreen clause” that protects the current level of union benefits, even though the contract expired on Sept. 30, has allowed the unions to dig in. City officials have little recourse short of challenging the legitimacy of such an open-ended evergreen clause in the courts. Most evergreen clauses extend for 30-90 days and are designed to motivate unions to bargain. The San Antonio police and firefighter unions, with a 10-year protection, are in no hurry to make concessions even as the City is hit with unsustainable 25% annual increases in union health care costs.

The Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force  appointed last year by then-Mayor Julian Castro recommended the City hold public safety spending at 66% of the $1.05 billion General Budget, already the highest percentage of any major Texas city. City budget officers under City Manager Sheryl Sculley and the City Council under Mayor Ivy Taylor adopted the 66% figure in the 2015 Operating and Capital Budget, which went into effect on Oct. 1. If a new contract is not achieved by Jan. 1, the City will start to run a $1.6 million monthly deficit, which leaves it with two alternatives: unilaterally cut union benefits or cut other city departments. The city charter requires a balanced budget.

Area President for Gallagher Benefit Services Buddy Morris is the City's health care consultant in the police contract negotiations.

Area President for Gallagher Benefit Services Buddy Morris is the City’s health care consultant in current contract negotiations.

Given those assumptions, I asked Buddy Morris, Area President for Gallagher Benefit Services, the national health care insurance giant, and the City’s health care consultant in the negotiations, to review some of the numbers and look ahead to the coming talks.

Rivard Report: What is the total cost of the fire and police unions’ Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2015?

Buddy Morris: $543 Million.

RR: The firefighters union is unwilling to bargain, but the City has been negotiating for months over health care benefits with the police union. Why no deal?

BM: Fundamentally, it takes two committed parties to make a deal. We simply don’t have that in this case. SAPOA is clearly not interested in reaching a compromise and the firefighters union won’t even come to the table to negotiate.

RR: How far apart is the City and the police union?

BM: Based on the union’s last proposal, we are $58 million apart over the life of a three-year contract.

RR: I know you are the City’s health care consultant, not their lead negotiator, but given your seat at the table across from the other side, are you saying the police union is not bargaining in good faith?

BM: Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I’m saying. In the 20-plus years that I have been negotiating employee benefit programs, I’ve never been in a situation where the other party is not interested in making a deal. A deal like this should take 90 days to negotiate. We have been at this for more than one year and we’ve actually regressed.

RR: I’ve come to the same conclusion after looking at the latest numbers and comparing the likely health care savings versus the union’s proposed wage increases. You are the expert, so please break it down for our readers.

BM: Well first and foremost, last year Mayor Castro’s Task Force came to the conclusion that by any metric, both the fire and police unions have excessive employee benefit packages…by a large margin. Consequently, City Council has adopted a budget that includes a cap of total public safety spending at 66% of the General Fund. To put this in context, this is the highest percentage spend of any of the five largest cities in the state of Texas. Further, healthcare costs are capped at $10,000 per officer per year in the new budget. Contrast that with the cost of health care for civilian employees at $7,000 and current costs of more than $14,000 for each union member.

RR: Ron DeLord, the police union’s lead negotiator, and Randy McGraw, their health care consultant, point to the various proposals they’ve put on the table as proof of their good faith bargaining.

BM: To date we have received four proposals from the police union and not one of them comes close to complying with the budget. Case in point: the most recent proposal would result in total public safety spending in the General Fund to dramatically exceed budget limits: 67% in Year One, 69.7% in Year Two and 71.3% in Year Three. In addition, the healthcare plan they proposed would cost the City $14,200 per uniform per year.

Image courtesy of the San Antonio Police Officers Association.

Image courtesy of the San Antonio Police Officers Association.

RR: Ron DeLord did tell Jeff Londa, the City’s lead negotiator, at the last session that he does not consider the 66% figure anything more than a “placeholder” number in the budget, subject to City Council review and adjustment.

BM: Precisely. There is no motivation on the union’s part to bargain in good faith. Their evergreen contract precludes them from doing so.

RR: It sounds like you are pessimistic about Monday’s scheduled bargaining session and the likelihood of a breakthrough. So what is left to accomplish by continuing to negotiate? How does this stalemate get resolved?

BM: Great question and probably above my pay grade. What I can tell you is that not having a deal in place that meets the Council’s approved number of $10,000 per year per officer will cost taxpayers an additional $1.6 million per month beginning January 1, 2015.

RR: Jeff Londa said the same thing at the last session, and the way he said it made it sound like a looming deadline when the City might be forced to act unilaterally.

BM: By city charter we are required to have a balanced budget. Consequently, if a deal is not reached, City Council will have to make decisions about what city services to cut to maintain this excessive contract.

RR: The people who depend on those basic services are not going to be happy to read that.

BM: I realize that and I’m sorry. Keep in mind that this contract expired at the end of September, yet healthcare has an evergreen clause that extends benefits for 10 years. As a practical matter, this clause contradicts the essence of good faith bargaining. We are simply trying to provide taxpayers with fair and balanced spending for everyone in the city.

 *Featured/top image: City (left) and police union (right) representatives during the collective bargaining meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

RELATED STORIES:

For City and Police Union, Numbers Don’t Add Up

City Sweetens Deal for Police Union 

City and Police Negotiators Closing the Gap

San Antonio and Police Union Talking Again

City Council Approves Budget, Urges Union Talks

See all stories related to the current contract negotiations here.

17 thoughts on “Conversation: Prospects Bleak for City and Police Union Talks

  1. The city grants a deal that is over the top for ordinary contracts. Then they later say it isn’t a fair deal and want to take it back?

    How can the police be accused of not dealing in good faith…and why are the firefighters bad guys for not coming to the table?

    Benefits are part of payment for work performed. This payment was granted with a very long time to be guaranteed.

    The city government makes many foolish decisions. Now they wish to blame the Unions, Firefighters, and Police for the city government’s lack of foresight and for their incompetence.

    It is a very tough situation with rising health costs. However, it was something that was occurring many years ago and continued to rise…something foreseen throughout the country.

    Taking promised payment back from those that work for the good of the city is not the answer. The problems will continue in other areas…and it is not a solution.

    Those in power already have this city in massive debt. Maybe it is time for competent people to take over. Those that won’t blame others for their chosen actions when it becomes obvious how they are the ones that dropped the ball.

    Mangers and representatives that will be accountable. Professionals that will not blame those that serve the city for not dealing properly because they won’t allow them to remove compensation promised to them.

    • Health care costs were not much of a factor when the City and SAPOA first bargained the existing benefits package decades ago. Health care and pension costs have since become a national problem, and public and private entities have responded accordingly to contain costs. Why should the police and fire unions be any exception? No one gets free health care anymore. It is true that elected officials in the past made some ridiculous concessions to the politically-influential unions, such as the no-premiums coverage and the 10-year evergreen clause. Look at police and fire across the country and you won’t see the same thing. It happened in an era when public corruption was more common in this city. Witness both union officials and City Council members who have pleased guilty to corruption charges. Much progress has been on that front. Current city officials should be supported in their efforts to undo bad decisions made by officeholders in years past. –RR

      • Unfortunately, public corruption in SA is not a thing of the past…and it is not being exposed enough by the media. Cuellar and Foddrill were illegally banned from city counsel…but the mainstream media reported little about that or what Foddrill exposed of the corruption as a whistleblower. The courts agreed with both Foddrill and Cuellar…and civil rights groups where aghast at the bans. Because they violated transparency and the right to speech in such a blatant way.

        And so much more concerning ACS and other city departments. There is more that points to corruption. Of course, San Antonio is not alone among many cities in the nation.

        But to use unbalanced information and bring up corruption that is not shown in this situation…and to claim the firefighters are at fault and the police are at fault because the city has decided to repeal what it has agreed to is unbelievable.

        At this point in time…the public servants with the city to honor its promise.

        How can they trust any future contract if they know that the city will try to take things back later if they find it harms them in balancing the budget? How can anyone that signs a contract with the city trust them in the future when this takes place?

        Problems with the budget are not the fault of those that signed a legal contract with the city. They are the fault of those in charge of the city. It is shameful to blame those working hard for the city.

        The deal was made. Now the city wishes to retract. It is fine if they wish to try. But accusing the police and firefighters of not being fair because they wish the city to honor its promise to them is reprehensible.

        And passing the buck to those that came before them and stating they shouldn’t have to honor it? Well…I suppose that kind of thing could continue for decades to come…

        If starting out fresh and the clause was not already in place, then I would agree with the city fully…but they made this mess…not the Unions or firefighters or police. Attacking them and speaking how they will hurt the city budget is just foolishness. They are made out to be evil doers…when all they are doing is asking for what the city promised…in writing…concerning their benefits.

      • Why are you mentioning “decades ago” in reference to benefits which were negotiated 5 years ago? This is the third contract Sculley has been involved in, the evergreen clause is in the contract which bears her signature, so if you want to say she is part of the politically corrupt system you mention, than I will agree with you.

        You also fail to report on how the City Manager has reduced the slice of the general fund budget to suit her agenda. To reduce the size of the budget and then claim we are exceeding the 66% is disingenuous at best and is more akin to outright lying to get her way. Do the math between the 2014 budget and 2015 budget and you will see what I mean. A fudge of a percent or two in a billion dollar budget has dramatic impacts which can be minimized and explained away to people who don’t comprehend the math like the City Council.

        Furthermore, it is the City who is not bargaining in good faith if you look at what they propose overall. In essence, they want the officers to take a 5-10 percent pay cut and then also strip away other benefits such as tuition reimbursement and the right to drive vehicles which are within safe mileage limits.

        Rivard, you are so biased and one-sided it is pathetic. You are truly a puppet to the City Manager and should be ashamed to call yourself a “journalist”. She had the express-news in her pocket and you decided to make her pocket your home. I only read your drivel since it is likely you have insight to the direction the City is headed. If they want to challenge the evergreen clause they agreed to, then tell her to file it already and lets get going. Tell Sheryl I said and that I wont miss her when she leaves.

        • Shameful isn’t it? Journalism seems not to exist in SA.

          When we watch or read the news we find little more than commercials for the city that either leave out vast amounts of important information or report false information.

          I had to become a citizen reporter on examiner.com to reveal the illegal actions being taken at Animal Care Services…all in full knowledge of the mayor, city counsel, and city managers. But it did no good…the main stream media reaches many more people…and city managers beat their chests in triumph in deceiving the public and advancing themselves even on a national level.

          Their “accomplishments” are mirages.

          When I was a young man journalistic integrity meant something. Citizens could generally trust what they read…or could read varying accounts with enough information to get a clear idea of what is truly happening.

          But in SA, media and city representatives have a special relationship. And the public continues to lose the fight for truth.

          • Robin

            You can spin it any way you want, but instead of ridiculous, unsupported inferences re my association with city officials, why not focus on the facts? Here they are:

            Fact: The City has an obligation to taxpayers and a fiscal responsibility to rein in runaway health care costs for the police and fire unions, which escalated 45% over the past two years.

            Fact: Every one of the police union proposals would require the City to spend more on the unions. You can’t save money that way. Any health care cuts offered by the union are exceeded by wage demands.

            Fact: It was a different world when the last contract was agreed upon, although the writing already was on the wall about rising health care costs. Everyone else, everywhere, pays premiums, co-pays and their fair share of those health care costs, including police and fire unions in other cities.

            Good journalism is alive and well. More coming.

            –RR

  2. Unions were meant to protect employees from abuse, not to allow them to bully their employers and cripple industries. I’ve just read that the PD and FD benefits were found to be excessive and also that they’re the highest cost across the state. I also assume if a private industry comparison were made the disparities would be huge. The taxpayers who fund these public services don’t even come close to the pay and benefits they’re expected to support for these unions. Why should this be tolerated and allowed? Sounds like organized crime.

    • What you dont read is how they gave up pay raises to obtain those medical benefits. If you research it, you will see SAPD is second to Austin in terms of overall compensation package. How far down do you want SAPD to fall? Soon enough the most qualified candidates; those with degrees or military experience, will just go an hour north to Austin where they continue to exceed the compensation provided here in San Antonio.

  3. Better idea: dissolve the police department! Until SAPD can prove they prevent more rapes and shootings than they commit, we’ll just go without, and probably be a lot safer.

  4. Renegotiating contracts happens all the time. And the base contract is expired, but the health care benefits continue for up to 10 years.

    If the city were to honor the contract for the next 10 years, the next contract will have to decrease an overcompensated amount for the excessive benefits paid during those 10 years. What is to stop the police and fire from picking up and leaving at the end of the 10 years after putting the city in the hole? They collect their obvious windfall compensation then move on.

    Then we, the city are left with an under compensated, inexperienced police and fire force. If the unions want the city to honor the excessive contract they got back in the 80’s, fine. But then don’t complain when the new contract swings that far in favor of the city. Better to keep contracts win/win than alternating win/lose, which in the city’s case is lose/lose in that when the city “wins” on benefits, we lose in quality of police and fire.

  5. I agree that the healthcare costs should be reigned in. Why should the tax payers be responsible for the extended family premiums? In many cases, the extended family members are employed and should seek their health coverage through their employer, the Affordable Care Act, or agree to pay into their coverage through the City. I have the highest respect for the police and firefighters and the job they do, but they are paid very well. Insurance premiums continue to increase year after year. It’s only fair that they agree to the reductions and stave off a deficit in the budget.

    I totally agree with Ms. Snyder that public corruption is not a thing of the past. As well that City leaders are responsible for allowing some of the mess. Take Cris Medina who’s currently under investigation by the FBI & police. Approximately fifteen months ago the City and Ethics Review Board allowed him to reconstruct false information on his Personal Financial Statements under oath several times. Imagine filing a false financial statement with a financial institution under oath and getting caught. That’s jail time. Medina claimed a fake business that never existed and didn’t have a job. How did he pay his mortgage; his bills? Many including Mayor Castro and the local paper knew about it and said nothing. The recent mysterious email alleging criminal activity and the pending ethics complaints filed against him show a very disturbing corrupt pattern. Why did the City initially look the other way? How many other elected officials have done this? What will change so this doesn’t happen again? Many questions beg to be asked and answered. There is no doubt in my mind that corruption is alive and well.

    • The reason taxpayers should be responsible for those premiums is because they were not responsible for the pay raises the police and firemen gave up to keep those premiums. It is pretty simple really….But the City and Rivard wont tell you the whole story…they dont tell you just 5 years ago this current contract, with all its benefits, was signed by all parties and went into effect. If you want to blame someone, blame Sculley since her name is on the last two contracts.

  6. Most are missing the point that this is a crisis created by Ms Sculley. There is no crisis. There is no one reading or commenting on this that would agree with their employer to a dramatic pay cut when there was nothing to create an emergency and force that to happen.

    ms Sculley is the highest paid City Manager in Texas, one of the highest in the country, yet Mr Rivard thinks she is a hero for trying to harm her employees. Look at her benefit package and tell the world what she gets paid in whole.

    She started all of this with her hand picked panal and trying to make the best run pension fund in the country loom as if it were in trouble. It does not matter what she or her panel said, that pension fund is the biggest reason she enjoys the bond ratings this city has.

    Now she expects her employees to give up benefits she agreed to pay, and take money out of their pocket, a true pay cut, while her salary continues to soar.

    The police have agreed to negotiate, but they should never bow to her majesty.

  7. Remember, while the current contract is in evergreen, that means no raises for the Police and Fire. Does that not account for any thing? Besides, the Union has been coming to ths table with proposal after proposal and they havd been turned down by the City. So who’s not attempting to negotiate? Also I thought it was made very clear that negotiations would start again but there would be no rhetoric or bad mouthing from either side. Now we have on video Asst. City Manager, Eric Walsch and Councilman Crier bringing up negative comments about Officers and Fire not living in the City and not paying taxes. Now who’s money hungry? Just everyone stay out of it and let them get the job done!

  8. No pay raises for police and fire for 1 year amounts to approximately 6-7 million dollars so do the math as far as who comes out ahead with no negotiations and con contract

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