After three days off promising, day-long negotiations, the police union walked away from talks with the City of San Antonio late Thursday evening, leaving behind a $20 million gap in proposals.
The maximum spending the City is willing to add to a new five-year contract is $77.5 million, said lead negotiator Jeff Londa. The San Antonio Police Officers Association estimates its latest proposal would add an additional $19.3 million, bringing the total added costs to the existing public safety spending for police to $96.8 million.
Once again, the City's financial models differ from police union projections. Londa said the police union's contract would actually add $98.1 million, a $20.1 million difference. Regardless, the difference is a significant gap that neither side was willing or able to close Thursday.
There are no plans to meet again before City Council votes on the City's 2016 fiscal year budget next Thursday. That budget takes effect on Oct. 1, and absent continuing negotiations, it seems all but certain the City will begin a new budget cycle with the terms of the expired 2009-14 police contract still in effect.
"We're willing to stay as late as possible – or as late as you will – tonight," Londa told the police union's lead negotiator, attorney Ron DeLord. "We're willing to work all day tomorrow, this weekend, and next week."
DeLord and union officials saw little reason to stay at the table with both sides determined to hold their ground.
"We've done everything we can do," said DeLord. "You can call us anytime, but if we can’t get a deal, then we can’t get a deal...We can always meet next year."
City Council is required by state law to approve a balanced budget. If a deal isn't reached with the police union, City budget officers will have to account for spiraling health care costs for union workers, costs that will be somewhat offset by wages remaining flat and a previously budgeted signing bonus going unpaid. Still, the failure to reach a new agreement could lead to cuts in other programs and departments.
"We're going to have to give (City Council) several alternatives," said Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh. City staff will wait until after the Labor Day weekend before presenting those alternatives in the unlikely event of an eleventh hour breakthrough in the talks.
Thursday's talks began on a foundation of two solid days of negotiations held Tuesday and Wednesday. After a full day of volleying contract proposals on Wednesday, DeLord told the City that the police union would come to the table Thursday with an offer "in the ballpark" of $75 million, the number that City officials said will keep public safety spending at or below 66% of the General Fund.
The union had conceded that dependents of union members will have to pay monthly health care premiums for the first time, even as union members themselves will continue to enjoy premium-free coverage under the offers made by the City. At the same time, union officials demanded wage increases to negate any out-of pocket premium payments.
That left an insurmountable $20 million gap between the two sides, despite nearly 10 hours of face-to-face talks and caucus meetings Thursday.
The union's initial proposal Thursday included $104.7 million in new spending over the last five-year contract. It was a proposal that accepted the City's latest health care offer, but included a 3% bonus and 14% in wage increases over five-years.
After adjusting the timing of wage increases – giving raises once a year instead of twice a year – the police union landed again on a 3% bonus and 14% wage increase package that totaled between $98.1 million and $96.8 million in increased costs for the City, not what Londa and City officials were expecting when DeLord sounded the note of optimism at the close of the Wednesday session.
The City's latest compensation package includes a 2% bonus and 11% in pay increases over five years.
"The wages (the City) offers, for us, doesn't allow us to have the ability to recruit, retain or value the service of the officers," DeLord said, disputing the City's data that police officers in San Antonio enjoy some of the most competitive wages and health care and pension benefits in the state.
Walsh remained hopeful that a deal could still be reached.
"(We) gotta keep working it. There are deals struck all over the place and I think both parties have an obligation to continue meeting and figuring out what creative alternatives are out there," he said.
*Featured/top image: The City's lead negotiator Jeff Londa said $75.5 million is the highest the City is willing to pay for a new contract with the police union. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.