A Greedy Firefighters Union: The Real Issue in the Contest for Mayor

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Firefighters hold signs in support of Greg Brockhouse at Cody Library earlier in the week.

Courtesy / Ray Whitehouse

Firefighters hold signs in support of Greg Brockhouse outside the Cody Library polling site during early voting for the May 4 elections.

There are reasons why firefighters worked every polling station in San Antonio from the opening of early voting through May 4, and why they will be back for the June 8 runoff. Civic duty isn’t one of them.

Firefighters union President Chris Steele stated the mission clearly in a secretly tape-recorded conversation to union members last year when he shared plans to get “our guy” in the mayor’s office. Incumbent Mayor Ron Nirenberg, in case you just moved here, is not the union’s guy. That would be challenger, former union consultant, and now City Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6).

San Antonio firefighters enjoy some of the highest salaries and benefits packages in Texas, yet most of them do not actually live in the city, thus avoiding taxes. They are ineligible to vote in City elections. They are, however, working to influence how you vote by misrepresenting the election as a vote for or against first responders.

That’s deliberately deceptive. It’s nothing of the kind.

The average San Antonio firefighters’ annual compensation approaches $100,000 a year in the only major Texas city where firefighters pay zero health care premiums. The firefighters project a working-class image, but they enjoy recession-proof employment and a standard of living that no working class people I know would recognize. They deserve good pay and benefits, but there are limits, a reality they resist at all costs.

Firefighters are working the voting sites to elect a mayor who will use his position and influence to perpetuate the firefighter union’s unsustainably rich benefits package. The police union finally agreed to a generous new contract in 2016 that, pending a deal with the firefighters union, will see members and their dependents start to pay a modest share of health care costs.

Nearly three years later, taxpayers are still waiting. Firefighters broke with the tradition of agreeing to a contract in concert with the police union and, for nearly five years now, have resisted bargaining in good faith with the City. Steele and others are now betting they can elect Brockhouse and thus place an ally on the other side of the bargaining table.

Early voting opens May 28, with polling places open every day except Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through June 4.

Brockhouse, if elected, has pledged to act in the interest of citizens rather than the union, but he has not put forth a detailed proposal for a new contract that would clearly spell out the degree of his support for the City’s bargaining position that has stood the test of three mayors and city councils. That consensus first reached under Mayor Julián Castro sets a limit on public safety spending of 66 percent of the general budget.

Brockhouse was the lone Council member to support the union’s campaign to pass three charter amendments last November, and two of them did. A reasonable person would conclude his sentiments lie with the union and not the taxpayer. He also is promising homeowners tax relief even as he supports the firefighters and the spiraling costs of their benefits package. I see that as a campaign promise that cannot be kept.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks with members of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks with members of the firefighters union before a Council session last year.

It’s been more than five years since a blue ribbon commission formed by Castro that included union representatives issued its comprehensive report that has guided the City in its negotiations. Abandoning that foundational document would be a monumental setback for good governance.

Addressing the issue of runaway health care costs for union members has been a long time coming. Mayor Henry Cisneros and City Council approved a landmark new contract negotiated under City Manager Lou Fox in 1988. Almost immediately, Fox had to acknowledge the costs of the contract far exceeded what Council members had been told before their vote of approval.

Perhaps no one could have predicted today’s spiraling costs of health care back then, but today, San Antonio devotes a higher percentage of its general operating budget to public safety than any other major Texas city, and each year the runaway costs of rich health care benefits for the unions makes the situation worse. The City’s civilian workers received a very different benefits package, creating two distinct classes of public employees.

As the runoff election approaches next month, it’s time to stop prefacing every conversation about the firefighters union with how much we respect first responders and cut right to the heart of the matter. The union leadership’s refusal to reach a fair compromise puts their own greed ahead of the common good. They enjoy one of the highest levels of compensation and lowest cost of living of any metropolitan public safety workers in the state, yet they want more.

Firefighters want a world where they and their family members never reach into their own pockets to pay a monthly insurance premium or visit a doctor’s office or pharmacy and face a copay. That’s not a world open to the rest of us, and it’s not one City taxpayers can afford any longer.

The opportunity cost is real. Uncontrolled public safety spending limits the City’s ability to fund street and sidewalk maintenance, parks, libraries, and social safety net services to the homeless and working poor. Nonprofits, major employers, and philanthropists work to fill that gap, but no amount of private charity can supplant public spending obligations.

The runoff for mayor should not be about Chick-fil-A. It should be about credible allegations of domestic violence leveled against Brockhouse, but many voters seem callously indifferent to issues of character.

The election is unarguably about the City’s future financial stability and the delivery of basic services to taxpayers. Until a new contract with the firefighters union is achieved, San Antonio’s future is increasingly an uncertain one.

84 thoughts on “A Greedy Firefighters Union: The Real Issue in the Contest for Mayor

  1. This is the real honest truth. Shame on our valued firefighters for listening only to Brockhouse and their union chiefs. Brockhouse remains silent while Union Pres Steele works night and day for his election.

  2. This editorial is right on target. I am ashamed and embarrassed that San Antonio voters are so dumb, so gullible and ill-informed. Brockhouse has no clue. Nirenberg may not be perfect, he may have made mistakes, but he isn’t in this for selfish reasons and he is not a potential embarrassment to the city like his opponent is.

  3. Interesting article. However, chart comparisons to other major Texas and US cities would have made your point. Otherwise, people in general would feel your a little biased.

    Also, if you know of comparisons that are out there some where, you may want to indicate the web sites to find them.

  4. If only the voters understood what the stakes really were for San Antonio and how deceptive Brockhouse’s race really is!

  5. 100% agreed. The firefighters’ personal financial goals are clearly at odds with a city that pays for them. And the fact that they aren’t even required to live and pay taxes to the city that supports them is outrageous.

    I’ve seen first-hand how this kind of greed has led smaller cities down a path of complete financial ruin. Firefighters playing to the public emotions of them being “good guys” as first responders is an effective tactic, but one that voters need to look past in order to set the city on a path to stability. Don’t be fooled.

    • I don’t know where firefighters live; one lives across the street and another used to be a great neighbor until his wife divotlrced him; this is inside the Planning Department’s “original city limits”.
      But everything said in the article and comments about this issue rings true regarding San Antonio Police Department officers. Some officers do live in San Antonio but keep it quiet because they are bullied by others. I cannot count the times I have thanked SAPD officers for serving the people of San Antonio and gotten into conversation with them and eventually heard them comment, if the topic turns to crime: ” That’s why I live in Live Oak.” What does that say to extract salary from residents of a city as a police officer but say that city is not safe enough for the employee to live there? This explains so much.
      Actually, almost always these comments were made by officers eating their free sandwiches at the McCreless Chick-Fil-A. Also I have heard officers make such comments eating their free burgers at What-A-Burger on Roland and IH-10. I used to be at Chick-Fil-A for a lunch meeting every week.
      I have never had a police officer brag about living in another city when I spoke with him at Nicha’s. So maybe it applies to the officers who eat at the fast food places that give them free sandwiches.

      • That is not to imply there is no crime in Live Oak, which apparently is full of SAPD officers. I knew a SAPD detective well for many years, as he was also a part-time pastor. He said there was just as much crime in Live Oak, and that his next-door neighbors had been dealing drugs the entire time he had lived there. But he never got evidence to get Live Oak PD to arrest them.

  6. For someone who never stops with the “nice idea but how do you pay for it?” rhetoric, Brockhouse seems oblivious to the potential costs of what would be a well deserved pay rise for the heroes of SAFD.

  7. The firefighters’ union, Brockhouse, Nirenberg, Sculley… A pox on all their houses. Your average San Antonio voter rolls their eyes at all four of them, and wishes for better than the usual Rivard-sanctioned nonsense.

  8. This issue should have been taken care of long ago. The blame is not all on the union, either.

    Despite this, Nirenberg will not be getting my vote. Who is behind him is much worse.

    • Not sure if it’s clear “who is behind him”.
      Nirenberg is address today’s issues and looking at the future with the SA Tomorrow planning program, use of sustainable energy sources, climate change, etc
      Brockhouse is going to give you less taxes and more city services- the less money the city has the less services your going to get.

  9. “San Antonio firefighters enjoy some of the highest salaries and benefits packages in Texas, yet most of them do not actually live in the city, thus avoiding taxes. They are ineligible to vote in City elections. They are, however, working to influence how you vote by misrepresenting the election as a vote for or against first responders. That’s deliberately deceptive.” Bob, like that has not happened? Think Russia and any business that has a stake in a particular candidate that is not located in San Antonio but may want to in the future. I seem to recall some stunt by the arrogant Thomas J. Henry when he located to San Antonio. Don’t blame the union. the situation is where it is because of weak previous leadership within San Antonio.

  10. My first response is being reviewed so I will post this one without the term “arrogant” in it. Bob, think Russia is you think it is odd that outside people/entities get involved in elections. Just because a firefighter does not live in the city, you think they don’t have a right to influence their working conditions. Come on. On a positive note, thanks for finally pointing out who was responsible for this mess to begin with!

  11. your editorial bias is revealed. i support firefighters and police and other essential city staff above the numerous constituencies which rivard, express-news, Mayor Nirenberg and majority of city council support which has resulted in expansion of city government into wasting funds on sustainability councils, homelessness studies, lgbt bridges, and numerous other councils, committees which enrich the ATTORNEYS, PUBLIC POLICY WONKS, & other individuals who produce the studies, reports and other data which as a taxpayer we dont need or want.

    i want the firefighters & law enforcement personnel paid well. they earn the $$$. for $ 100K a year ( which includes benefits) i am not willing to put my life on the line in the performance of my occupation. firefighters and law enforcement, emergency personnel do. If Brockhouse would embrace this issue in opposition to the mayor, city council, editorial staff of express-news and rivard report he would win going away.

    VOTE FOR GREG BROCKHOUSE FOR MAYOR.

    • Your logic says everyone in the military should be paid $100,000 too. Nice idea. We put our lives on the line too.
      Let’s see that pay raise and no more fees for Tri-Care (Military’s Medical system), etc.
      How are you going to pay for it?

    • Your logic also reveals that you have accepted all of the union marketing claims. Look up the data: a firefighter’s job does not even rank in the top 10 most dangerous professions, severeral rankings put it near #25; at least one ranks a commercial painter’s job as more dangerous. The national figures also reveal that firefighters, on average, respond to a fire once every 3-weeks, and that might be a dumpster fire; basically a really well-paid, part-time job. Their job is desperately necessary and I am always thankful for their work, but let’s recognize it with appropriate compensation…not hero worship.

        • In many professions, compensation is analyzed on the basis of comparisons to that of similar jobs in other markets. On that basis, our firefighters are more than well-compensated; the principal problem is that their benefits are out of line. Though some might exist, I don’t personally know of any public or private company that pays 100% of employees’ and their families’ health benefits without employee contribution, and certainly not with the benefits package that the firefighters enjoy. And don’t forget, Chris Steele failed to disclose the fact that he and his wife were divorced for several years so that taxpayers would pay her health benefits instead of him having to pay the cost out of pocket himself, a fine example of union leadership ethics.

        • Richard, in many professions, compensation is analyzed on the basis of comparisons to that of similar jobs in other markets. On that basis, our firefighters are more than well-compensated; the principal problem is that their benefits are out of line. Though some might exist, I don’t personally know of any public or private company that pays 100% of employees’ and their families’ health benefits without employee contribution, and certainly not with the benefits package that the firefighters enjoy. And don’t forget, Chris Steele failed to disclose the fact that he and his wife were divorced for several years so that taxpayers would pay her health benefits instead of him having to pay the cost out of pocket himself, a fine example of union leadership ethics.

  12. The educated voter will vote Nirenberg. Voters who don’t educate themselves about the real issues will be swayed by Brockhouse’s “Support the firefighters” rhetoric. This isn’t about firefighters; it’s about Brockhouse and Steele wanting power.

    And I’m generally pro-union.

  13. I have an idea. Any person who does not live in the city in which their employer is located can not work for that employer. This will do one positive thing, eliminate the flood of traffic into and out of the city daily!

    • Great idea. But another tough one to implement…
      But we should certainly put a toll booth at the city or county line to charge a fee for all those who enter the city. They use our infrastructure, etc. yet don’t pay for anything.

  14. I will be filming my visit to the polls this time to capture the harassment leveled at voters by the firefighters and their surrogates holding their Brockhouse for Mayor signs in their bright red t-shirts hurling profanities and obscenities at anyone who dares question them.

  15. Both Nirenberg and Brockhouse seem awful to me, but for different reasons. It is time for AOC-style progressive leadership for San Antonio, not just center-right #1 and center-right #2.

    • Being the Mayor of a major city in the US is a thankless job with very low pay. Who would want the job unless looking for the next one at a higher level?

  16. Who gets 100% of their health benefits paid for by their employer? That is just not real world anymore! That is a tremendous burden on the citizens who are paying taxes and is unrealistic to think we can continue to absorb the increasing costs . And what incentive is there management to shop for the most cost effective rates since it is
    paid by someone else ?

  17. Thank you for laying out the real truth about the firefighters and their union. It’s tragic what they are attempting to do to the City we love.

  18. In a land that could elect Donald Trump as President, it’s no surprise that personal values and character seem to have become irrelevant to so many voters.

    Those who support Brockhouse over Nirenberg at this moment must be truly blind to the self-serving manipulation of the firefighters union at the expense of all other municipal employees and City and/or in complete agreement that Trumpian behaviours are just fine for the top representative of our great city.

    Nirenberg, whose natural compassion and empathy are self-evident, sees a future with continuing, well planned infrastructure growth and economic prosperity for the City and all its residents. I fear his opponent lacks such vision and empathy.

    Thanks so much for your perspective.

  19. There is a simple fix to part of this. Make a city residence requirement for city employees. That way those good, middle class wages would be spent in the city. And good people who seek those wages would be drawn to San Antonio Big cities that have long faced what San Antonio is confronting now have done this decades ago.

  20. I just began reading your RR.
    and was hoping for unbiased reporting.
    Ron had an opportunity to make a positive difference for our city and squandered it taking umbrage on silly opinions and concerns.
    I think “thou protests too much.”
    You strong unwavering support for Ron has only convinced you I should vote for Greg. Thank you.

  21. I voted against Nirenberg to express my dissatisfaction with the council’s bent leftward twist.

    I will vote against Brockhouse in the runoff election to express my disapproval of his character and his allegiance to the fire fighters union over his responsibility to ensure the city’s long-term fiduciary health.

  22. Bob, in another context you once gave me advice that I now pass back to you: “Keep writing. We’re reading.”

  23. What is up with your very biased reporting? I’ve been tracking the articles you have written on this subject and it’s clear you have an agenda…disappointing. I don’t care for either candidate, but if you are going to share negative about one side then share the same amount of negative attention on the other. You have not written one single (complete) negative on Ron.

    • Nor will he, William. Bob Rivard is a Sculley/Hardberger disciple who would rather vilify others (fire and police) rather than admit the pervasive failures of city leaders. He relentlessly promotes an obviously weak mayor with weekly “hit pieces” and biased commentary/reporting, all while offending anyone who votes contrary to the status quo as “misguided”, “confused”, “fickle”….stopping just short of “uneducated” or “stupid” as others have alluded to in this forum. Yes, it’s his website and his commentary, but it doesn’t take an overly-educated individual to figure out the agenda. Be prepared for 3-4 articles of salacious “wife beating”, “poor credit”,” multiple baby mamas” rhetoric each week until early voting begins. Not crazy about Brockhouse myself, but the sooner everyone (including you Bob) realizes Nirenberg can’t decide where to eat without asking Sculley and Hardberger first, the better off we will be. The attacks on Brockhouse’s character and the very stale anti-union attacks will not be enough to save Nirenberg, no matter how much the “core” group (and you know who they are) tries to muddy the water. The “uneducated” are paying attention!

      • Chubola, I challenge you to cite the column where the quoted words you attribute to me have appeared. You are entitled to your opinion. You are not entitled to misrepresent what I have written. –R

    • This is an opinion piece. An op-ed. By definition, it expresses an opinion. Stop clutching your pearls and grow up.

  24. Another perfectly timed hit piece! Ever wonder why this is being published right now?
    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but look up all the previous RR articles. Every single one is anti FF and anti Brockhouse. The RR is giving you half the story. Just do your research, go to sa.gov and click on collective bargaining and watch/listen to the ten hours of recording between the city and FF. It will enlighten you and you will see that the city is lying AND why they lost in court four times in a row.
    RR mentioned the FF didn’t bargain in good faith. The city was suing the FF. Why would the FF go to the bargaining table while being sued?
    As I stated, everyone has their opinion, I just encourage you to do your own research and not drink all of the RR koolaid.

  25. All media hype aside on secretly recorded statements, did you ever wonder what the leaders of the business community were saying about supporting Nirenberg behind closed doors? Did you ever bother to think that he was “their guy”? I’m wondering if the business community is having all of their members check their cell phones at the door when they meet so they don’t have something blow up in their face.

    As far as I can tell, living inside the city limits is not a requirement for employment even for city civilian employees. I’ve looked the sanantonio.gov website over and over and can’t find that as a requirement. If you’ve successfully found this, please share it with the rest of us.

    If it’s an accurate number, maybe you can blame their $100K plus total compensation package (an HR term) on past political missteps by political leaders that are still lurking behind the scenes (just look at the hilarious Vote No commercial with just about every former mayor that is still breathing), but have you considered the possibility that they might have a history of doing a good job justifying their total compensation package when they negotiate with the city? (probably not)

    The term “generous contract” for the police may be a function of your point of view. I’ve asked several SAPD officers what they think of it, and generous is not their adjective of choice. It seems that your own online report of the city council’s contract vote included several Nirenberg references to the CBA cost, including your statement, “Nirenberg’s dissent, however, was largely focused on other financial aspects of the deal.” ( https://therivardreport.com/city-council-approves-long-awaited-police-union-contract/ )

    Having a perceived ally across the table can backfire. Just look at what has occurred with the Houston Fire union and the mayoral candidate they supported, which may be the reason the fire union here pushed for and successfully obtained binding arbitration utilizing neutral arbitrators. (https://www.governing.com/week-in-finance/gov-houston-firefighter-layoffs-pensions-mayor-turner.html , https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/houston/article/Firefighters-endorsement-of-Turner-draws-heat-in-6156654.php )

    As far as the City’s well publicized and self-imposed 66% of General Fund rule for public safety spending goes, I guess you haven’t noticed that the FY19 city budget actually has that percentage at 63%.

    Yes, there’s some math involved that may not fall under the purview of a newspaper or blog editor (maybe you should pay someone to do that for you), but when I look at the colorful pie graph and divide $794 million into $1.26 billion, I get roughly 63% (actually 63.0158%). That 3% differential equates to $37.6 million before the referenced 66% occurs.

    How could that have possibly happened? Think the city was making it up all along to create artificial bargaining leverage against the fire and police unions? Talk about unfair bargaining…

    Have you watched any of the city’s own video recordings of the fire union-city negotiations online? The last on April 2nd is particularly interesting ( https://www.sanantonio.gov/City-Attorney/CollectiveBargaining , http://sanantonio.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=83&clip_id=4795 – the most relevant clip is from the 32:00 to the 43:22 time stamp)

    Yes, you have the urge to stab yourself in the eye with a fork when watching these videos, but it looks to me like members of the city team actually tried to separate themselves from the city’s longstanding stance on the 66% of general fund issue, and it also looks like the fire union actually tried to save the city money on healthcare and pay premiums, and the city turned it down. (summary: you’re working off of old, apparently non-relevant, information)

    If you don’t like firefighters and police officers just come out and say it. If you’re against unions just come out and say it. Don’t, however, blame them for using their First Amendment rights, which in addition to freedom of the press guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of association, etc.

    Some folks call these things civil rights. Others may call them a nuisance, but in the end they are all rooted in the U.S. Constitution.

    Come to think of it, a reasonable person might ask if your biggest fans on this blog are in agreement with you.

  26. Mayor, I hope you are listening to this.

    Brockhouse was the one high profile, so called “pro business” San Antonian, with his fervent, all in support of Prop A, who could have made it possible for East siders, West siders, and South siders to group together to propose and likely pass.a proposition to put a LANDFILL in Stone Oak, La Cantera, Alamo Ranch, Rogers Ranch, TPC parkway, the 3009 or any other North side location, you pick the spot. And don’t think they wouldn’t have tried, or still may try now that Brockhouse has made them feel empowered.

    Brockhouse thinks it isn’t a problem because Prop A didn’t pass, except that he is the one who pushed hardest for its passage. If someone tries to ruin your neighborhood, should you vote for him, seems very strange and self defeating.

    I still think Brockhouse will win, because it is hard to argue against firefighters, it isn’t a fair fight. They do so much for us, but the person who says that there are some limits is demonized, and made to appear anti firefighter.

    The mayor needs to give North siders (leaflets perhaps) a reminder of what they nearly got with Prop A, and most of all, remind them that Greg Brockhouse fought really hard to almost make that North side landfill a real possibility.

    • Placing a landfill close to where much of the garbage is generated would be an economically-efficient public strategy compared to past practice of hauling everything primarily to District 2.
      It would do much to progress our local leader’s states goals of representation by population demographics.

    • The eastside shouldn’t be the only location for landfills. This NIMBY (not in my backyard) philosophy needs to stop.

  27. I checked the City’s website on firefighter compensation and was amazed to see that after 33 years of service, a firefighter will receive 87 percent of his salary in retirement. How is that possible?

    • Because they pay 12% of their salary every year into that retirement fund which is one of the best managed pension funds in the country. The city isn’t paying for that money at that point.

  28. If everyone here wants to make it about influence, cronyism, power in the city I can follow you. Union vs establishment. I can follow that.

    To the people who comment things about how a firefighter’s job isn’t very dangerous because they only fight fire every 3 weeks or that we are just propping them up as heroes I do not follow you. These people clearly do not have a clue about firefighting. It is a massive amount of ignorance if you think all they do is fight fire when it happens. Also to the who really believe that your average firefighter would net anywhere near $100k in a year, you probably don’t know very many firefighters.

    • Richard, I don’t know what source you have for compensation figures. Mine come from the City’s official W-2 statements for firefighters, and the average annual compensation is $97,000. -RR

      • Don’t forget that we also have the privilege of paying these heroes’ legal fees when they get divorced, when they are sued by wives and girlfriends for domestic violence, and when they get speeding tix. Who the hell thought that it was a good idea to create that legal slush fund for them?

      • Robert,

        My numbers come from currently working paid firefighters here in San Antonio, around Texas, and in Canada.

        If you notice the majority of the fire service is actually volunteer. To make a living at it is a huge deal and only large municipalities can really afford that. The national average salary is 52k for a firefighter / paramedic.

        The weird thing about your stat is to get that high of a number, was the data not compiled combining every chief, batallion chief, captain, lt. salary and all years of experience then lumping their salaries in with everyone else? It’s a paramilitary organization and you’re going to have a few making a really good living and the majority making between 50-60k but starting lower than that.

        My numbers also come from job posting boards on firefighting, talking to departments what they pay and for how much experience and qualifications.

        I find it interesting you go to the W-2’s but don’t bother to actually talk to any firefighters? You could leave them anonymous but just actually talk to a few and get a pulse. From my experience, your number is way off….like the kid who ruined the curve on a test you are not seeing the reality of the group.

        One last argument to put to rest what a few else seem to still be hooked on. Firefighters aren’t just putting out your fires once every three weeks. In Texas, you won’t get hired if you aren’t at least a certified EMT Basic or Paramedic. Firefighters are at every car accident, heart attack, extrication, technical rescue, hazardous materials incident, floods…you get it. The fire service is a lot of hurry up and wait…but then when you aren’t just waiting it is really intense and incredibly dangerous to your own safety. Firefighters face higher rates of cancer than the population they serve and the number one cause of death in the fire service is heart attack usually from stress or overexertion. So please people, you want to make it about the union go right ahead. You make it about their job and how easy it is and I will confidently smile knowing I will never vote with you.

        • Reading over my argument I could sum it up quicker:

          If I were to give you an average compensation figure for an employee at Google while not clarifying what that equates to in terms of performance, education, years on the job, position in the company then we don’t really get an understanding of what that figure represents.

          Say I throw in Sundar Pichai’s, CEO of Google (net worth $600 million), and his executive’s salaries… then start lumping their compensation with the intern’s then the picture gets skewed as to an average figure.

          If you had clarified that after 5 years on the job a Firefighter I/EMT Basic for SAFD will be making on average $100k in compensation I’d say that’s high and I’d vote against the union. 10-15 years on the job and the number starts to make sense. I just think the statistic is intentionally misleading to reinforce a premise that wouldn’t fly without that critical $100k figure. Therefore, how we arrived at that number is crucial to the argument it upholds.

  29. Given what I learned in a lifetime in a union is that if all the members have to do is man polling stations to improve their bargaining position – all y’all be out there and be quick about it. A firefighter just died – stow the trash about the job is not that dangerous. Paradigms about what employers should pony up for health premiums will not get better if this union backs down so stow that, too. The firefighters have every reason in their world to be out there and it is legal. The Chicken Issue just plays into their hands; run with it because it resonates with a lot of voters inclined that same way. Reality is what it is.

    • You’re right. It’s legal. Honesty be damned. Who needs honesty when we’ve got the it’s-legal-so-it’s-ok argument. Nice values you’ve got there.

  30. As a teacher that’s makes half of what some fire fighters make and pays 1k a month for good health insurance for my two toddler children, I am applaud by the fire fighters union and the fire fighters themselves at polls.

    Please, come on up to me at the runoff and spew your trash at me. I look forward to it!

      • I am. So sorry, for my careless mistake. Please forgive me. I am sickened by greedy fire fighters who live in beautiful homes and drive big customized trucks/SUVs. All while teacher’s live check to check.

        I know a retired fire fighter who lives in a million dollar home in Terrell Hills. I thought he was a retired doctor/CEO/business owner, but no.

        I know doctor’s who went to to school for 8-12 years and make less than fire fighters.
        Greed is disgusting.

    • Young enlisted service members put their life on the line and have a much higher mortality rate than fire fighters. They get paid peanuts compared to them. Don’t like the new benefits? That’s fine, quit and go somewhere else. But, I’m sure you won’t. Welcome to America!

  31. I have family and friends who have dedicated their careers to the fire department’s mission in San Antonio. I personally worked with the City and, while not in the Fire Dept., directly worked with them. Firefighters are among the most dedicated employees the city has, it is unfortunate that the union leadership has taken a position that will ultimately cost them the public support they have traditionally been able to count on. They have overplayed their hand, and I suspect most Firefighters feel the same.

  32. Don’t like a jobs pay and benefits, don’t take it! Fire fighter entrance exams are full of hundreds of qualified individuals, and only a select few are taken. Fire fighters are easily replaceable with an individual of equal skill and compassion. These individuals act like they are irreplaceable.

  33. Best part time job in the world.I’ve also seen 5 firemen go to turn on a fire hydrant together.What a waste of personnel.They aren’t even competent.The State report on the fire where a firefighter died , listed numerous violations of fire fighting procedures.Nobody has been disciplined or fired.These guys are way overpaid.The city should have a layoff.

    • Perhaps you would prefer only 2 firefighters go together, and then when the fire call comes in they first have to drive back to the station to pick up the other 3 before heading to the fire?

  34. I’ve learned that although firemen may not have many fires to put out, they serve at accidents and tragedies that have serious tolls on mental health. They see things that they can’t take home and share with families. It is a tough environment to be in. It’s so disheartening to read people’s comments brush aside their work.

  35. This is a spot-on analysis, and I really hope that SA voters see through the firefighters union’s attempt to use the respect people have for first responders to trick the voters into handing the mayor’s office to a crony.

    People keep saying Nirenberg “can’t make a decision on his own.” Brockhouse can’t make a decision without talking to Chris Steele. Steele said it himself when he said he wanted “his man” in the mayor’s seat. If you vote for Blockhead and expect him to be independent, you will be gravely disappointed.

    Also, while first responders do have e a challenging and dangerous job, it’s a job they CHOSE to do. Should they be given pay and benefits that are so far above what other city workers get, and that could easily bankrupt this city in the future? Only someone thoroughly drunk on the Blockhead koolaid would say yes to that.

    The real bottom line is simple: Brockhouse is a puppet of the unions, has questionable character, zero independence, and an agenda that will set San Antonio back decades. He will kill any progress this city has (and could) make if you let him. San Antonio voters need to be smart for once.

  36. At what point do SA journalists actually do some independent digging instead of taking city press releases and numbers at face value? To quote above: “It’s been more than five years since a blue ribbon commission formed by Castro that included union representatives issued its comprehensive report that has guided the City in its negotiations.”

    That commission started the whole “unaffordable healthcare and benefits” spin against public safety, but what is the reality? We should, by now, be seeing this commission’s dire predictions on bankrupting the city coming to fruition. Are we? Short answer: no. The city has run surpluses in the tens of millions every year since those farcical predictions were made to mobilize public sentiment against public safety workers. Those surpluses come in the face of the fact that due to their evergreen clause, the city has been providing health care to firefighters and their dependents that whole time, and yet still run those surpluses. It would seem those benefits are not so unaffordable after all. On top of that, the city has met it’s own created goal of keeping public safety within 66% of the general fund budget each of those years as well. So where is this spiral? Don’t believe what I say? Look for yourself:
    https://www.sanantonio.gov/Finance/bfi/cafr

  37. Yes because the city and county won’t lower the property tax rate and our taxpayers have seen their tax bills increase double and triple the last few years.

  38. If the voters smartened up, they could ask for a charter change prohibiting the city from recognizing and negotiating with a police or fire union. I think that’s the solution to this mess. For some reason, voters seem to not understand the difference between firefighters and a firefighter union.

  39. In response to arguments that San Antonio can afford unsustainable public sector benefits based on current numbers: one serious economic downturn that impacts taxation and city revenue, and the local economy, could change everything. You don’t plan for what’s happening now; you plan for the worst-case scenario.

    As for the unions, I personally think the Texas Legislature needs to pass statewide legislation banning public sector unions from involvement in political campaigns or budgetary negotiations. San Antonio is not the only city affected by a greedy public sector union; Houston is having similar problems with its firefighters union.

  40. I couldn’t agree more with Robert Rivard’s commentary. And the firefighters’ presence at my polling place felt like an intimidation tactic, since their t-shirts said “FIREFIGHTER” very clearly on the back. I didn’t appreciate having to run their gauntlet to get in and being subjected to their comments on my way out.

  41. This is such a biased article. I guess it was OK to continue giving the former City Manager (one of the highest paid in the country) pay raises and bonuses, yet when it comes to first responders, they can have little. I for one do not mind paying for their insurance. They put their lives on the line for all. When and if (hopefully you won’t) you need the assistance of a first responder, may they get to you fast, but I hope you realize how crucial they are.

    • If we want to stick with facts rather than baseless charges of bias, let’s note that Sheryl Sculley was a veteran city manager in one of the largest cities in the country with council-manager government. Her pay was not out of line, as an independent study commissioned by City Council recently documented. As far your misinformed assertion that local firefighters get little, the facts, again, show the San Antonio firefighters enjoy some of the highest pay and benefits in the state of Texas compared to their counterparts in other metro areas who face higher costs of living and receive less generous health care benefits. –RR

  42. This commentary is spot-on. We need only review the infamous and outrageous 1988 contract with the police officer’s union and soon-to-be-convicted-felon Harold Flammia’s machinations that led up to it to see what is in store for this city with someone we might not unreasonably identify as the “Mayor of the Firefighters’ Union” should he become the narrow-interest mayor of the city as well. It has taken nearly three decades to bring some semblance of equity and fairness to city taxpayers back to police contracts. With Mr. Brockhouse at the helm, we’ll be back in the acidic vat of disgraceful policy again.

    May the city not require its employees to reside within it so they can share the joys of the city’s taxes? Other jurisdictions do this, so why not us? It seems fundamentally unfair for some pressure group consisting of very many city-employee members who are not city residents to be agitating and spending big bucks to raise taxes they will benefit from but not pay.

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