Police union and City of San Antonio negotiating teams will likely be working overtime this evening, crunching the numbers on three contract proposals presented to the union Tuesday morning. All three proposals include a 2% one-time bonus for members if an agreement is reached before the City approves its 2016 fiscal year budget next Thursday, Sept. 10.
The concept of a lump sum payment, previously 2.5% based on current salary, had been taken out of City proposals in August after the July 31 deadline set by Mayor Ivy Taylor passed. Now the City has put it back on the table, a considerable concession to "meet in the middle," said Houston attorney Jeff Londa, the City's lead negotiator.
It's a win for the San Antonio Police Officers Association and its president Mike Helle. "Everything is negotiable," he said in response to the lump sum concession. It's a sentiment he has repeated since Mayor Taylor set the deadline to pull the bonus off the table.
The bonus is just one piece of the contract's puzzle. The two sides will meet again Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. after further hashing out other details of the City's proposals.
This previously unscheduled meeting is representative of both sides' dedication to work toward a new contract before next week's budget vote. Typically, the two sides have not meet on consecutive days for formal, public meetings throughout the more than 18-month negotiating process. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. if an agreement isn't reached Wednesday.
"Once we get additional numbers from the City ... we can deeply analyze what we received today," Helle said, adding that he is confident that a deal could be struck before Sept. 10. "I'm going to work 24/7 to get this thing hammered out."
What the City hasn't budged on is requiring dependents of union members to pay monthly premiums for their health care. This has been the key element to keep public safety spending at or below 66% of the general fund, a target set by City Manager Sheryl Sculley and City Council after the Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force demonstrated that public safety costs needed to be reined in to avoid a coming financial crisis.
Each proposal represents varying amounts of wage increases and health care costs. Under the current contract, neither members nor their family members, qualifying dependents, pay any premiums for their health care plans.
The City took the money for the previously offered 2.5% bonus and incorporated that $8.5 million back into the City’s FY 2016 budget to go towards street infrastructure and maintenance. Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh could not say where the money would come from to pay the 2% lump sum if an agreement is made this month.
"Assuming we get a deal done before the adoption of the budget, we're going to give the Council several alternatives ... for how to pay for it," Walsh said, careful not to imply that it would come from departmental funding.
The City's Office of Management and Budget will be looking into its options to fund the bonus.
“It has to come from somewhere ... we presented a balance budget (to Council) on Aug 6. Readjustments would have to be made," said the City’s Government and Public Affairs Office Director Jeff Coyle.
In September 2014, Council voted to re-allocate $14.2 million from the General Fund – away from 2015 project and program funding – to pay for the resulting public safety deficit of last year’s budget process. No one wants to see that happen again.
The total costs of alternatives A, B, and C are $71.1 million, $75.4 million, and $73.3 million, respectively, while the City's cost per member work out to be $12,389, $12,899, and $13,500 under the three proposals..
The police union's most recent proposal made on July 17 carried a per capita cost of $14,504 and would put public safety spending at 69%, according to the City's certified actuary.
The so-called Alternative C, for instance, has a relatively lower over-all wage increase of 10.5% throughout the five-year contract with phased-in member dependent premiums and significantly lower value plan premiums.
Alternative A has a higher wage increase of 12% with dependents' premiums due the first year. Alternative B also phases in dependent premiums, but with higher rates. It includes an 11% wage increase.
Each proposal includes a lump sum bonus of 2% upon ratification and approval.
At the time of the Aug. 19 meeting, there was a $30 million gap between competing contract proposals – the City's proposed four-year contract and the police union's proposed five-year contract. Because the City new proposals are for five years, the City is working to determine the financial gap between its and the union's proposals.
The ballooning cost of health care has dominated negotiations, but other contract issues remain unresolved. The biggest issue after the two sides balance wages and health care costs is the 10-year evergreen clause. All three alternatives presented by the City include a footnote that the deal would come with "elimination/revision of the evergreen clause", which keeps the current contract, signed in 2009, in place for 10 years beyond its Sept. 30, 2014 expiration date. Under the clause, union members currently pay no premiums for themselves or their dependents and their wages will remain the same. That clause is the subject of a City lawsuit challenging its legality.
If tradition is any guide, the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association will agree to accept the same contract terms negotiated by the police union.
*Top image: SAPOA President Mike Helle (left) and the City's lead negotiator Jeff Londa (right) look on as SAPOA lead negotiator Ron DeLord tells reporters that they'll restart talks up on Wednesday. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.