After a no-show from union officials at a scheduled negotiation meeting Thursday morning, Mayor Ivy Taylor announced that the City of San Antonio will be "advancing" its lawsuit that challenges the evergreen clause in the police union's contract.
The City has officially asked for a decision from the court on its suit filed last November that calls the evergreen clause – which keeps the current contract in place for ten years until a new deal is reached – unconstitutional, Taylor said, but that doesn't mean the City is backing out of negotiations.
"The moment that we strike an agreement and have a contract then the lawsuit would go away," she said. "I would hope that they would reconsider and come back to the table, that certainly is an option."
San Antonio Police Officer Association (SAPOA) Mike Helle sent a letter to the mayor and city council members on Wednesday that stated the union won't be returning to the table until the lawsuit is dropped.
"Negotiations may resume should the City decide to remove the lawsuit and return to good-faith bargaining,” Helle stated.
The union has considered filing a countersuit.
SAPOA released a statement later in the day Thursday in response to the City's announcement that called for a "public debate" over the lawsuit.
"At the last minute (the City) said the evergreen clause was now a deal breaker. We look forward to finding out that answer in court," stated Helle. "It's sad that City Council supported this lawsuit in private, secret meetings."
If an agreement can't be reached, the lawsuit will likely be appealed through a lengthy process to the Texas Supreme Court. That process would likely not take longer than 2024, when the evergreen clause expires, but Taylor said she was not sure how long it would take.
"It will take some time," she said. "A year to two, I would guess."
City Council will be looking into redistributing the one-time lump sum payment that was previously set aside for union members in case an agreement was made for other services, Taylor said, and budget adjustments need to be made in coming years to compensate for ballooning health care costs that the City is obligated to pay while operating "in evergreen."
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 provide longevity pay increases and cover health care costs. Union members and their dependents do not pay monthly premiums.
The two sides appeared to be on the brink of agreement during a meeting last week that included some dependent premiums and a 15.75% wage package over the life of the four-year contract, 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 end seemed to be in sight so of course it's very frustrating to not be able to conclude at this point," Taylor said.
If an “impasse” in negotiations is declared, which seems unlikely, voters could find themselves voting on a new contract, according to an ordinance passed in 1980 that has never been used or been tested by a legal challenge. Taylor said there has been no formal discussions about it, but that "individual conversations" have taken place in City Hall about that option.
This story has been updated with statements released from SAPOA.
*Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor announces the City's plan to move forward with its lawsuit against the police union contract's evergreen clause. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.