After a Thursday session that ended in a standoff over the evergreen clause, police union representatives threatened to not show up for Friday's scheduled collective bargaining session with the City of San Antonio morning. Sure enough, the City's team showed up Friday morning, but the other side of the table was empty except for union negotiator Ron De Lord. Union officials stayed away.
Undaunted, the City put its new offer on the table and DeLord promised his side would review it over the weekend. Reporters who thought 18 months of on-again, off-again negotiations would end with a new contract this week will just have to keep their seats.
The City's latest four-year contract proposal removes some stipulations that the union declared unacceptable, including health care premiums that would take effect in 2020. The City's proposal to cut the 10-year evergreen clause in half to five years is unchanged in the latest offer. The evergreen clause keeps all wage and benefits in effect when union contracts expire and thus gives the union great leeway in bargaining for a new contract. The City filed a lawsuit last November challenging the legal validity of the evergreen clause.
Jeff Londa, the City's lead negotiator, reiterated the City's position that the San Antonio Police Officers Association's (SAPOA) proposed eight-year evergreen clause is far beyond what the City is willing to accept. Given its choice, Londa said, there would be no evergreen clause because it serves as an impediment to good faith bargaining.
"The courts have said that perpetual evergreens are illegal," Londa said. "Ten years is virtually perpetual. The business reason for not having an evergreen is the parties need to know there is a deadline. It's kinda like doing your homework."
The current 10-year evergreen clause has been in effect since the most recent five-year contract expired in September 2014. It offers members no wage increases, but continues to cover ballooning health care costs. Union members and their dependents do not pay monthly premiums.
"They could just leave the 10-year (evergreen clause) in there and drop the lawsuit and I think we'd have a deal tomorrow," DeLord said. "(But) the City made movement today, we just have to go back to our team and get some direction."
Friday's meeting was perhaps the shortest ever in a string of on-again, off-again meetings between the two sides that date back to April 2014. The City and police union have all but agreed on wages and health care packages, and while a few other minor issues remain, it's the evergreen clause that could prove to be a deal-breaker. The two sides appeared to be on the brink of agreement during Thursday's meeting, but the disputed evergreen clause sparked heated discourse as the afternoon gave way to evening bargaining and the disagreement brought the meeting to a tense close.
The City hopes to reach a deal for the start of the 2016 fiscal year on Oct. 1. With only five days left in September and a police union that's willing to wait "in evergreen" for the courts to rule on its constitutionality – that's an outcome that seems to be hanging by a thread.
Under the current contract, the City is paying approximately $17,000 per uniformed employee for health care. During 2016, if a new agreement isn’t reached, that will increase to about $19,000, according to City staff. One of the latest proposals that both sides seemed willing to accept would bring those costs down to around $13,500 in 2016. These costs, along with longevity pay and a 15.75% wage increase that includes a 3% signing bonus, would keep public safety costs below 66% of the City’s General Fund if the same deal can be reached with the firefighters union.
*Top image: The City's negotiating team meets with the police union's lead negotiator Ron DeLord. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.