City, Police Union Stall Over Evergreen Clause

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Jeff Londa, the City's lead negotiator (left), reads over his latest proposal to the police union's lead negotiator Ron DeLord (right) while SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer (center, left) whispers into President Mike Helle's ear. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Jeff Londa, the City's lead negotiator (left), reads over his latest proposal to the police union's lead negotiator Ron DeLord (right) while SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer (center, left) whispers into President Mike Helle's ear. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

After 18 acrimonious months, the City of San Antonio and its police union appeared on the verge of striking a new collective bargaining agreement after two days of marathon negotiations, but neither side budged Thursday night when talks turned to the controversial evergreen clause.

The clause, with nothing comparable found in any other police or fire union contract in the state, keeps wages and benefits in effect for as long as a decade in the event of a collective bargaining standoff like the current one.

The on-again, off-again negotiating marathon still underway has afforded the union the option of repeatedly walking away from the bargaining table, a strategy that has led to an increasingly rich package of enticements from a City government eager to strike a deal while still managing overall public safety costs at 66% of the general fund budget.

The union strategy of holding out for more seemed to be working after two days of intense negotiations that have brought the two sides within $2 million of a deal. Yet a final agreement now seems bogged down over the City's insistence that the evergreen clause be cut in half to five years and the police union's refusal to consider less than an eight-year clause.

Further talks are scheduled for Friday morning, but union representatives said they might not show up.

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, which union members do not help cover. Meanwhile, The City filed a lawsuit earlier this year, still pending pretrial hearing motions, that claims the evergreen clause is unconstitutional.

"The evergreen (clause) is not a financial issue," said San Antonio Police Officers Association's lead negotiator Ron DeLord. "(The City) chose to get into a lawsuit during bargaining and (that) made a problem."

The two sides exchanged two rounds of proposals for more than six hours on Thursday. Talks continued after 8 p.m., the latest the teams have negotiated into the evening. Both sides had agreed on a wage increase package and the basic structure of a health care plan, and for the first time, the City had prepared its proposal into a contract format with spaces for each side to sign and date. More details remain to be to worked out, but City representatives said they felt the rest could be worked out through a subcommittee after ratification.

The City's lead negotiator Jeff Londa answers questions from reporters' after talks with the police union. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The City's lead negotiator Jeff Londa stands up from the negotiating table as the police union representatives file out of the room. It's unclear if they'll return for talks in the morning. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Jeff Londa, the Houston-based lead negotiator for the City, said that regardless of the lawsuit, the City's position would be the same on the evergreen clause because it is indeed a financial issue.

"The fact that we sued the police union has nothing to do with what we would agree to during collective bargaining," Londa said. "(An evergreen clause) should be as short as possible. Most labor agreements are negotiated on time. This is not negotiated on time and the City and the unions here have a history of long deliberations which (results in) uncertainty for the employees and leaves budgeting problems for the City."

Such long evergreen clauses disincentive timely agreement, he said, even five years is too long but "we did that to try to get an agreement."

It's an argument that both sides have had before and will likely be heard in court after any pretrial motions are dealt with. The deadline to file such motions is months away, Londa said.

"I don't know what will change between now and tomorrow morning," DeLord said. "I don't know if we'll be here or not."

SAPOA President Mike Helle said the negotiating team will consider it, but that he will likely attend a union picnic scheduled for members tomorrow instead.

Securing a long evergreen clause has been "one of the mandates from our membership," Helle said. "I take a great risk even reducing to eight years versus the 10 (but) it was a compromise that the team felt we were willing to do."

Helle and DeLord said they didn't mind waiting to get the evergreen clause matter settled in court.

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 agreeable to would bring those costs down to around $13,500 in 2016. These costs, along with 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.

Historically, the firefighters’ union has accepted the same contract terms negotiated by the police union. San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association has yet to formally meet with the City’s team.

The City's negotiating team started with proposals that cost far less than what was proposed today by either side and repeatedly sweetened the deal throughout the negotiations, compromising by increasing wage packages and the City's contributions to member health care plans.

The police union's negotiating team has made some concessions, but is holding a stronger line. Members and their dependents, typically spouses and/or children, currently do not pay any monthly premiums under either the value or consumer-driven health care plans. The union has agreed to add nominal premiums for dependents under the value plan but not for the consumer-driven plan.


*Top image: Jeff Londa, the City's lead negotiator (left), reads over his latest proposal to the police union's lead negotiator Ron DeLord (right) while SAPOA Vice President Dean Fischer (center, left) whispers into President Mike Helle's ear. Photo by Iris Dimmick. 

Related Stories:

Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.

City, Police Union Gap Narrows to $4 Million

City, Police Union Contract Talks Break Down

City, Police Union Inching Closer

City and Police Union Closing the Gap

6 thoughts on “City, Police Union Stall Over Evergreen Clause

  1. An important fact that was left out is no one gets pay raises while the contract is in Evergreen. Just for reference, PD and Fire are starting their 3rd year without raises. Because of this, the Evergreen clause has always been to the advantage of the City in previous bargaining. They’ve used it many more times to walk away or stall as long as possible then the Unions because they know it’ll typically save them a year or two of raises. This time however, rising health care costs are about on pace with what a typical raise would provide so the unions haven’t been quite as quick at accepting the 10-30% net pay cut the City has been offering.

    The only “deal sweetening” that’s going on is PD trying to at least break even on current compensation and maybe if they’re luck get a cost of living adjustment. If this was really about controlling ballooning health care costs, a deal with nominal COLA raises and health care cost controls could have easily been reached a year ago. Sadly, this has become very, very personal.

    • Why would the city use the evergreen as leverage then turn around and sue to invalidate it. And I’m not sure what types of raises you’ve seen but healthcare costs have risen anywhere from about 6.5 to 10% every year. And most employees on average are burdened with about 40% of that cost. And that’s in addition to many folks going years without any raise whatsoever.

      folks that think they are deserving of things that are unheard of aren’t going to get much sympathy.

      • In past contracts (not this one) the City has used Evergreen as leverage. In these past contracts, (once they’ve expired) the benefit costs, including health care, have typically held very steady and wages freeze. This is very beneficial to the City because it saves them millions for every year that goes by where they don’t give raises. The City typically milks the Evergreen by dragging their feet and playing hardball at the table. If PD and Fire doesn’t take the terms that are offered, they don’t get a raise. It’s that simple and has worked very well in the past for the City because who wants to go 10 years without a raise?

        On this contract however, health care costs have risen faster then inflation. It’s safe to say PD and Fire health care cost has been rising at 6-10% per year for the last 3-4 years. In 2014, their health care cost the City around $15,500 per uniformed member. At 6-10% that’s about $1K-$1.5K per year extra in rising costs. There are a variety of reasons this is so and many of these reasons are easily fixable but that’s for another post.

        The average patrolman and firefighter make around $50K per year so a 3% pay raise would then translate to $1,500 or roughly the equivalent of their rising health care cost.

        Now, to put it into prospective, (until this last offer) the City has been offering raises that would be completely consumed and then some by the increased health care costs the City is demanding they pay. In essence, the City was demanding a pay cut of around 10-20% from current total compensation. This time the table is turned though and the Evergreen isn’t working out to the benefit of the City because the rising cost of health care is essentially the equivalent of a pay raise. While the uniformed members aren’t getting cash raises, they’re getting increased benefits. Because of this, PD and Fire arent in much of a hurry to take a pay cut. So it’s really no surprise to the City they’re saying no. Hence the Evergreen lawsuit.

        Why would they use it as leverage one year and sue to nullify another? It’s because it’s the City. They have a history of short sightedness. Most of the people on the City’s side weren’t here on the last contract and won’t be here on the next contract. They’re playing to win the game today and most likely don’t really care about the next.

  2. Mike,

    This is why there’s not a lot of public sympathy for the union members. The majority of citizens have come to expect their own employee healthcare costs to outpace raises. why should public safety deserve more. Considering that the average professional doesn’t get OT, free legal fees, an office that lines up side jobs and all of the other benefits that push the average public safety salary much higher than what you’re suggesting.

  3. Joey,

    I understand your anger and frustration. Yes, there are many benefits in the Contract that has been negotiated over the years. Let me address the ones you listed.

    OT – No police or firefighter has any control over the amount that’s offered to them with the exception of what’s federally mandated by the FLSA act, which isn’t much. For the vast majority, if/when management is doing their job right, there is no overtime. Sure, it’s great when it’s there but it can’t be relied on. When you see the paper publish the City’s top 500 earners there are always quite a number of fire and police on these lists. These are typically management’s favorites who do special projects. Ever notice Sculley never releases the pay of the entire department? Only the top 100 or so? That’s because you would see the majority do actually make between $50-$70K total and that wouldn’t fit into her narrative that they all make $200K+.

    Free legal fees – It costs the city I believe $17 per month per member to provide this. It’s a fringe benefit that is provided at minimal cost to the City. Yes they will help with divorce proceedings to a point but the legal help is limited by a dollar amount and the lawyers are so bad you would be stupid to use them with such an important thing. They are however good at helping with Wills which is a good thing since fire and police work is dangerous.

    Side Jobs office. 1 – Firefighters don’t get this. 2. – The city makes money on this as the City gets a percentage. 3. – The policemen have to actually work these typically horrible hours on their days off and holidays.

    Good health care – Professional firefighters have a 60% chance of dying of cancer in their lifetimes. That’s much greater then the general population. Even though the State mandated a presumptive health care law stating worker’s comp has to cover cancer costs, the City has denied all claims. SAFD has had an enormous rise in cancer over the last 10 years, but the City refuses to cover the costs through workers comp. Furthermore, the City refuses to release the healthcare numbers so that SAFD can see how much the rise in cancer claims is contributing to the rise in costs. Tell me Joey, if a soldier is shot on the battlefield, would it be ok to make that soldier pay their premiums and deductibles before they’re treated? Of course not. Then why is it ok to vastly raise the rates on these firefighters dying of cancer while claiming they cost too much?

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