The Fourth Court of Appeals ordered the City of San Antonio and San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association (SAPFFA) to begin negotiating a new contract, according to a news release sent out by the City Thursday afternoon.
The two sides, embroiled in a lawsuit over the current contract’s “evergreen clause” that keeps most terms in place for 10 years after it expires, have yet to come to the bargaining table since the City began requesting meetings about three years ago. The contract expired on Sept. 30, 2014.
“We look forward to it,” stated SAPFFA President Christopher Steele in a separate, short news release.
The City recently concluded prolonged, impassioned contract negotiations with the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA), a process that also involved court-ordered mediation regarding the same evergreen clause. SAPOA President Mike Helle has said that this process, which takes place behind closed doors, allowed the warring sides to reach an agreement which was approved in September amid protests. That contract includes an eight-year evergreen clause.
The order requires the City and fire union to agree on a mediator within one week and start mediation sessions within 60 days. If they can’t agree, then the court will appoint a mediator for them.
“This is progress for the City, our taxpayers and the fire personnel who work hard to serve the San Antonio community,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley stated. “We are happy the court recognized the City’s willingness to negotiate and ordered the union to come to the table.”
But the deal the fire union gets may look different from what the police union got. SAPOA members will, under one health care option, begin to contribute to the cost of their dependents on that plan, receive wage and allowance increases, and will no longer have access to a $1.5 million legal fund. The latter term, however, is entirely dependent on the fire union agreeing to the same.
A key goal for the City is to keep public safety spending under 66% of the General Fund. After three years, the SAPOA contract is expected to increase public safety spending slightly beyond 66% to 66.3% and 67.6% in years four and five, respectively. This increase could be mitigated with possible growth in utility and tax collections, but it seems more likely that public spending would need to be brought down by giving the fire union a different, less expensive deal.
“First in, best contract,” Sculley said in September after the SAPOA contract was approved.