A New Union Contract: How Castro Exits Strong

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Mayor Julián Castro delivers remarks at the JFK memorial ceremony at Brooks City-Base. Photo by Annette Crawford.

Mayor Julián Castro delivers remarks at the JFK memorial ceremony at Brooks City-Base. Photo by Annette Crawford.

If Mayor Julián Castro wants to give the city of San Antonio one last gift and achieve one more significant accomplishment before departing for Washington and a new job as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he should do whatever it takes to help City Manager Sheryl Sculley win a new collective bargaining agreement with police and firefighters.

That means a deal by the end of July when the U.S. Congress goes into summer recess for the month of August. I am presuming here that President Barack Obama will nominate Castro to become the next HUD secretary and that the Democratic-controlled Senate will agree to expedited confirmation hearings. The Senate Banking Committee  presumably could start and finish the hearings in the space of one week. Republicans will start to take aim at Castro as a future vice presidential hopeful, but they’ll find little material to work with.

Mayor Julián Castro could become Secretary Castro less than two years after he delivered the Sept. 4, 2012 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. San Antonio could be operating with an interim and weaker mayor by Aug. 1.

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley

Both sides agreed in March to complete a new contract by the end of June. That is no longer a realistic date with the next bargaining session set for mid-June, but a mid-July date – while ambitious – is possible if both sides give ground, which is the nature of a good negotiation. There are several compelling reasons for Castro to push with Sculley for such an agreement:

  • On the current track, negotiations with the police union are probably headed for impasse while the firefighters sit on the sidelines as interested observers and await their turn. An expedited agreement serves both management and the union, and the city at large. San Antonio doesn’t need to become a city where we lose the long peace between uniformed officers and civilian bosses.
  • Without an agreement this summer, the unions will weigh in, full force, on the City Council scramble to elect an interim mayor who will serve out the last year of Castro’s unexpired term and presumably gain the advantage of incumbency in the May 2015 city election.  The process will be convoluted enough without the unions becoming a factor.
  • Castro might disappoint many in San Antonio with his decision to go to Washington now, three years before his term limits run out in 2017, but none can deny his record of accomplishment over the last four years. Adding a new, more balanced collective bargaining agreement to that record means he won’t have to sit in Washington reading about labor strife in his hometown, or suffer critics who say he left his post at a key moment.
  • Sculley will never be stronger than now with Castro behind her.  She deserves enormous credit for taking on an issue that others before her ignored and that has now existed for 25 years. Sculley and her team of negotiators probably know they can’t get everything they want in one bargaining year. A quarter century of entitlement can’t be reversed in a single contract.

What would a sensible compromise look like? It has to start with the police union and its negotiators continuing to acknowledge that Sculley has been right all along: the current rich array of health care benefits and special pay perks paid to the unions and unmatched in other cities cannot be sustained. The unions have to give back and join the rest of world in paying for part of their own health care costs, surrendering some perks, and accepting equal footing with civilian employees.

For starters, police can agree the so-called legal fund which pays personal legal expenses for union members – be they arrested for a DWI or divorcing their spouse or ordering up a last will and testament – needs to be eliminated. It’s a multi-million dollar slush fund.

Second, police can agree to start paying monthly health care premiums for themselves, their spouses and their children. They can adhere to policies that encourage users to stay in-network with physicians choices, avoid emergency room care for non-emergency services, and when appropriate, use the benefits offered spouses at their workplaces to reduce the city’s current burden of paying virtually all insurance costs.

All of this can be accomplished by merging the police and civilians into one new plan that addresses any legitimate concerns of the union and delivers the budget savings that are essential to good fiscal management. There can’t be a deal unless the city can reduce the percentage of the general fund being spent on uniformed personnel.

Ron Delord, representing the SAPD Union, sits at the head of the conference table to the left of Houston lawyer Jeff Londa, who is representing the City of San Antonio with Fort Worth attorney Bettye Lynn (far right) during contract negotiations on April 29, 2014. Photo by Robert Rivard.

Ron Delord, representing the SAPD Union, sits at the head of the conference table to the left of Houston lawyer Jeff Londa, who is representing the City of San Antonio with Fort Worth attorney Bettye Lynn (far right) during contract negotiations on April 29, 2014. Photo by Robert Rivard.

One approach would be to give the unions three to five years to gradually move from their present benefits program to equity with civilian employees. This could be done by merging into one plan now with the city subsidizing premiums on a graduated basis for a number of years. Union members could pay 25% of the new costs the first year, 50% the second year, and so on. By the end of the new contract, they and civilians could be treated equally.

The police will want a pay raise in the new five-year contract. That should be contingent on their benefits give-backs. The faster they come into the civilian plan, the more they improve the numbers and make a pay raise affordable.

That might not be the contract Sculley and team wish to achieve, and it’s certainly not the contract the unions wish for, but it’s a realistic compromise. The public overwhelmingly supports the city leadership in this negotiation, and the police union would be smart to proactively work toward a compromise. The firefighters union would be wise to do as they’ve done in the past and sign on the same dotted line as the police.

San Antonio would still be very competitive with other Texas cities in terms of police and firefighter pay. The City could then turn to other pressing issues as an interim mayor and realigned City Council work to maintain the tremendous momentum built over the decade that former Mayor Phil Hardberger and then Mayor Castro together built and sustained. That’s the long-term challenge, and it won’t be easy.

*Featured/top image: (File photo) Mayor Julián Castro delivers remarks at the JFK memorial ceremony at Brooks City-Base in November 2013. Photo by Annette Crawford.

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29 thoughts on “A New Union Contract: How Castro Exits Strong

  1. If Mayor Castro truly wants to go out on a high note and be remembered by the City of San Antonio, he needs to close off Alamo Plaza to vehicular traffic and make it a pedestrian-friendly place worthy of the “Shrine of Texas Liberty”.

  2. The union has been saying that any reduction in benefits without an increase in base pay amounts to a “pay cut” and is unacceptable. But, when you are so far above other comparable cities and we can’t afford it, it’s hard to see how any kind of “revenue neutral” approach makes sense. I’d be ok with the phase-in approach, but one way or the other, combined expenditures have to be reduced.

  3. You fail to understand that sworn police and fire fighters are risky jobs that require them to risk their health and lives to help complete strangers. No other profession except the Military requires this risk. Ironically, the Military has this same benefit. To compare some city employee who sits in a nice ergonomic chair in a safe air conditioned to a police officer running to gun fire or a firefighter going in a house fire to save lives is an insult to these brave men and women. If you want good health care , then sign up. Last I heard SAPD has been having a difficult time finding qualified recruits. Lastly, if it gets too expensive for them to get health care, then guess what Einstein ? Instead of seeing a doctor right away to get better, they will just call in sick and self medicate with OTC meds or just plain rest. What will you when a third of your police officers are sick during Flu season? Call the City Manager at 2 am when you hear something scary?

    • Oathkeeper

      In my years as a Newsweek foreign correspondent in Central America, where we did get shot at daily in our work, nobody ever offered to clean my teeth for free, check my eyes for no cost, or pay my medical bills without my paying my fair share.

      You and others are presumably drawn to the profession by a sense of public service. You didn’t get in this to escape premiums, so please accept them now.

      • I don’t know about that. I think you would be surprised how many people join for the most unusual of reasons.

        I remember some people in the military joining for the benefits, some joined because they wanted to kill and then there were those who joined to be a part of something bigger – to serve their country.

      • Sir, and I will say what many tell the people of the SAPD/SAFD, you knew what you were getting into when you took the job. Glad you made it back safe and in one piece. One thing I notice is you no longer do this type of reporting. Is this true? If it is, then I am sure it is because you no longer choose to engage in that risky type of reporting. Now honestly. Could you still do that job for more than 30 years?

        Now think of those PO/FF’s that have to endure the stress you endured in Central America for 30 years. Most of them barely enjoy their retirement. The least we can do is to allow their current health care insurance.

        • No way you’re going to be a patrolman for thirty years! I think one would have at least made lieutenant by then.

          • There are only 50 Lt’s position. About 120 Sgt’s and about 350 Detectives. Not much room for promotion when you only have anywhere from 2 to 3 Lt’s retiring or promoting per year. Maybe 10 Sgts and 20 to 25 detectives per year.

    • I value the work that SAPD does.

      But I’m not just comparing them to a city employee that sits in an office, I’m also comparing them to the brave men and women who do similar work in other similar cities.

      Do criminals run rampant in other cities because too many police officers call in sick?

      Are their cities descending into chaos because (horrors!) they just buy flu meds at HEB or Walgreens?

      No. But I know it sucks to lose a healthcare perk when you’re used to it. Like pretty much everyone else in the US that isn’t an SAPD or SAFD officer, we are all paying more and getting less. But it’s not personal against you, you’re just the only ones left.

      • TX1

        Thanks for your comment. This goes right to the heart of the issue. All of us pay more for less these days in terms of health care. It’s a nationwide phenomenon, and sharing the pain is only fair. Two other points: It bothers me that some of the pro-union comments denigrate the city’s civilian employees as lumps occupying office chairs. My work takes me places in this city where I see city workers who are out in the community attending evening meetings, putting in 12-hour days (and not earning one penny in overtime) when they could be home with their families. The after-hours Awesome SA event at Travis Park the other night was well-attended by the Center City Development Office. I see that kind of commitment every day of the week. Second point: It disturbs me that someone would threaten a mass sick call as a negotiating tactic. Doesn’t commitment to mission outweigh personal feelings? –RR

        • First, trying to instigate class warfare between the Police/Fire personelle and the city workers is an old tactic right out Karl Marx thinking. Comparing what the PD/FD do to what the city workers do is like comparing the NFL to High School football. I am not putting the city workers down. It is a matter of comparing high level skills, training and expertise against another level.

          The concept of communism is a failure. You can’t pay a Doctor the same as a sanitation worker and everyone in between the same. What you have then is everyone doing mediocre work and not trying to excel.

          Second, I was not saying about anything about a fake sick call in. Here is a fact for you all. Police and Fire serve and come into contact in very chaotic situations. Incidents that are fast acting and dynamic . It is impossible to safeguard them from getting sick. Mr. Rivard it is near impossible to get a workers comp claim when they sick from these incidents. But luckily the insurance they have covers it so they get immediate treatment and are back on duty.

          You put a spin on it like it was a theat to for a mass sick call in. What I was saying is if they have to pay expensive care every time they get sick from job related illness, they are going to take lowest cost available. Which is to rest and self medicate. Everyone loses on that.

      • Correct, paying more and getting less. The benefits you are wanting to remove is a way to hire more officers and not potentially loose the ones we have.

        You want numbers, your police force should be doubled. Two officers per squad downtown, your running one officer in each vehicle…. Why? Most large cities have two, for officer safety. Your city doesn’t even care enough about your officers to provide them the safest equipment and resources at work. Bullet resistant glass on the squads? What happened to the money for the SWAT officers new ballistic vests. Where are the funds for advanced technology for the fire and police officers going? The assets seisure money?

        Compare the population size to the police/fire and EMS. This is why you have so much overtime opportunities for them. Not enough to do the job, especially when something happens, like the SPURs winning a game.

        You have the officers you have as well as fire / EMS because of the benefits you provide. New officers would be stupid to go to a City with poor benefits and low pay. What would be the incentive to work for public safety in your city if the benefits are removed?

        No reason to stay in TEXAS people…. I know a lot of Texans, and those that feel they just can’t live outside SAN ANTONIO, trust me, it’s not true. If it comes down to it and you’re benefits are taken. MOVE!!!

    • David

      publicsafetyfacts.com is union spin, not fact. I understand that you don’t want to see benefits reduced, and I would not, either, were I in your position. But the financial reality is that the city and its taxpayers can’t sustain that level of benefits. The numbers don’t lie. You might not like them, but attacking my writing doesn’t alter the numbers.–RR

  4. Its castros mentor, cisneros, that put the city in this financial position and at the expense of non collective bargaining employees whose wages are far below par with other cities.

  5. I find it quite interesting that the City was confronted by SAPOA by taking over the so called skyrocketing healthcare insurance from the City. And what was the City’s response, Uh well uh we get better costs savings by grouping everyone together. Yah right. Why would SAPOA, who has managed the Vision/Dental plans and the Retired Police Officers Health plan want to take over a supposedly insolvent Health Plan heading to bankruptcy? This is the same police association that has it’s Pension plan as the model to follow and has other Cities in the country wanting follow it.

    The City knows that they would lose a huge slush fund that they could draw upon by fudging the numbers. Doesn’t make sense that someone ,(SAPOA), offers to take away a huge debt from you , why you wouldn’t want to hand it over to some one else who is offering to take it over. Detroit is an example of what not to do. Once a vibrant and strong city, now a crime ridden ghost town. They spent money on expensive ill advised projects. Now San Antonio wants to go down that same road. Billion Dollar Trolley cars anyone? Via can’t even fill those expensive Primo buses and they want these expensive Trolley cars?

    If want to continue to recruit quality for your Police and Fire Dept. then expect to invest in it. Otherwise let people like Castro and Sculley get away with turning San Antonio into another Detroit.

  6. I find it quite interesting that the City was confronted by SAPOA by taking over the so called skyrocketing healthcare insurance from the City. And what was the City’s response, Uh well uh we get better costs savings by grouping everyone together. Yah right. Why would SAPOA, who has managed the Vision/Dental plans and the Retired Police Officers Health plan want to take over a supposedly insolvent Health Plan heading to bankruptcy? This is the same police association that has it’s Pension plan as the model to follow and has other Cities in the country wanting to follow it.

    The City knows that they would lose a their slush fund that they can longer manipulate . Doesn’t make sense that someone ,(SAPOA), offers to take away a huge debt from you , then why wouldn’t the City want to hand it over to some one else who is offering to take it over?

    Detroit is an example of what not to do. Once a vibrant and strong city, now a crime ridden ghost town. They spent money on expensive ill advised projects. Now San Antonio wants to go down that same road. Billion Dollar Trolley cars anyone? Via can’t even fill those expensive Primo buses and they want these expensive Trolley cars?

    If a city wants to continue to recruit quality people for your Police and Fire Dept. then expect to invest in it. Otherwise let people like Castro and Skully get away with turning San Antonio into another Detroit. It is proven that cities like Detroit start cutting back on Emergecy services to fund expensive social projects, is the beginning of a demise for a city.

  7. First I apologize for reposting my above comment. My notebook glitched.

    I am sure there were people like Mr. Rivard saying in 1975 in Detroit bad science fiction too. The problem with the type pf thinking by Mr. Rivard is they fail to remember history and then repeat those failures from history. Now look at Detroit 39 nine years later. Cutting back on the police and emergency services with crime out of control and emergency services stretched thin. Detroit is talking about building a new football stadium for the Lions and the city is dying all around them. Unbelievable.

    The city is spending money on social engineering projects like Via’s Primo buses that are just busting at the seems with passengers. Those new buses are rarely full. Now Castro and his cronies want to force another expensive project that is not needed. That trolley system will swell into a billion dollar fiasco.

    These so called leaders want to pay for it on the backs of police/firefighter’s and their family’s back. We ask a lot from them as it is. Yes they know all to well the risk of their jobs. You can’t put a price on what they do for us. People have no problem spending money on entertainment and sports , on people who wouldn’t lift a finger to save you . Like our brave Military, they deserve the health care benefits that was contracted to them. They are different. The majority of them are honorable and noble. They deserve their health care. But sadly, you equate them as some faceless city employee.

  8. Hmmmmm, why doesn’t the city look at increasing the quality of pay and benefits for their civilian workforce? And I don’t mean mean just upper-tier positions (such as Scully and her staff), how about all the others? It is so much easier to TAKE from a scapegoat such as the uniformed unions than for management to GIVE UP some of their perks. What is so wrong for uniform to have good benefits and pay? Management is sure casting some mean stones within their own glass houses.

    • The answer in brief is that the city seeks to stop the spiraling costs of health care benefits, which are going up for uniformed personnel and going down for civilians. In that regard, the city manager and others already are on the far less expensive civilian health care plan.

      • You keep making claims without any data to back them up. The costs you say are spiraling out of control are small compared to the pork barrel projects the mayor and city manager hand out to their cronies at the Chamber of Commerce in exchange for supporting their attempt to loot uniformed programs in order to free up money for more cronyism. The projects that have made the citizens of San Antonio the most indebted of any Texas city (the mayors true legacy).

        If they were truly concerned with health care costs, they would have jumped at handing health care benefits over to the unions. What would the risk be? If that failed, Obama care is now there to save everyone.

        You are obviously a disciple of the mayor and city manager, and anyone with any critical thinking skills can see your self serving logic. When they try to use Detroit or Chicago as examples of escalating costs to scare people into supporting their looting attempts, that’s a valid argument, but when someone mentions the inevitable result of looting core city services to fund pork, you call it sci fi…

        Keep preaching to your those who don’t think for themselves, sir, but don’t think you’re fooling anyone else with your propaganda driven “news.”

      • Where do you get your information from?
        “The City Manager and others already are on the far less expensive civilian health care plan”.

        I think she can afford her own health care plan with her current wages and other “benefits”, cars, phones…..etc.

        Pull your head out.

  9. Let’s start from the top-management gives up some of their pay and benefits, lead by example!!!! Or do they DESERVE their benefits/pay but uniform doesn’t?

  10. Word has been that the police gave larger raises over the years in return to keep the health benefit where it is. So isn’t that the same as they are paying, just in a different form? I can’t understand how you equate the city workers gathering at Travis park the same as police and fire fighters doing their job. I bet you they had extra officers around the area of that park during that event, to keep those inside safe. Why has the City Managers salary and benefits increased almost 80 percent plus since being here. Shouldn’t her salary be more in comparison to city workers. The police and fire fighters have a dangerous job, give them the little extra for risking their well being. You wish to tell the family of late Officer Decker that his benefits were too much?

  11. I hope those civilians sleep comfortably at night knowing that the SAPD/SAFD that they are equal to will rush headlong into danger without hesitation and at a moments notice, no questions asked. I’m sure the civilians face those situations all the time at work, and I’m sure the LODD and LOD injury rates are similar, right? The stress of dealing with life and death situations is similar to making sure the TPS reports are done. Stop looking at numbers and start looking at people. In the real world you earn your keep, and I think MIL/LEO/FF and their families earn what they have. Its not about saving money, thats a farce, its about moving money to where the politicians want it. And the first place all politicians go for money is servicemen and women. If you want to be “equal”, put on the boots.

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