Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The City of San Antonio again offered to delay its lawsuit against the police union contract's 10-year evergreen clause on Wednesday, but this time offered to consider a three-year evergreen clause if the union would agree to return to the bargaining table this month.
A three-year clause is what the police union's lead negotiator and attorney Ron DeLord agreed to last month in Corpus Christi while working with their union.
To which San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle replied: "Absolutely not ... we are not going to come back to the table until this lawsuit is done."
This has been the police union's stance for several months: No formal talks until the lawsuit is dropped or decided in court.
An evergreen clause keeps the terms of the current contract in place after it expires. A 10-year clause, the City's lawsuit claims, is unconstitutional.
The City’s five-year contract with the police and firefighter unions expired Sept. 30, 2014. The City's lawsuit was filed nearly two months later. On-again, off-again negotiations continued between the City and SAPOA for more than a year and a half. The police union called off talks in September last year, after agreeing on a wage and health care package because the City would not renew the 10-year evergreen clause or drop its suit.
"We've tried that already," Helle said during a phone interview on Wednesday. "We tried to negotiate with a lawsuit hanging over us ... it doesn't work."
While "in evergreen," police officers receive no wage increases, but rising health care costs, which union members do not help cover, are covered and officers still receive longevity pay.
Mayor Ivy Taylor announced and described lead negotiator Jeff Londa's letter during a press conference on City Hall's front steps Wednesday afternoon. Council members Roberto Treviño (D1), Rey Saldaña (D7), Joe Krier (D9), and Mike Gallagher (D10) stood beside her at the podium as she and attorney Michael Bernard, former City attorney who is now on the negotiating team, fielded questions from the press.
"We've offered several concessions in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement," Taylor said. This is "an opportunity for both parties to put past disagreements aside and to resolve this issue for the community once and for all. We are committed to providing the best possible package for our excellent public safety officers that we as a community can afford.
"Once we resolve the contract then the lawsuit goes away," Taylor said. Dropping it now, she added, would put the city at a disadvantage if continued talks failed.
"If we got back to the negotiation table and found ourselves in a position where they were asking for more than we could afford then we need to have the option for us to be able to pursue remedy in court."
The lawsuit is pending before the Court of Appeals and a briefing of each side's respective arguments are due next week. The letter proposed delaying that until April 6, so at least five bargaining meetings could be held.
"If we're in productive negotiations, we can go longer," Bernard said. "We'll continue to put off the filing of any provocative papers that need to be filed ... Had they not walked away in the fall we'd probably have a deal, it'd probably be ratified, and the lawsuit would be over anyway."
Several Council members, including Cris Medina (D7), Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Ray Lopez (D6), have called for the city to drop the lawsuit.
“It is time for us to return to the business of running a city while respecting all its employees. We need to stand strong with our first responders and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Gonzales stated in December.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh stood off to the side during the mayor's remarks. Sculley, and her recent pay increase, has been the target of SAPOA criticism for months.
"We'll continue to try to get them to the table," Sculley said, even after SAPOA refused the City's latest offer to meet.
Helle pointed to Sculley's new contract as one of the main reasons why, if negotiations were to continue, the deals and concessions previously agreed upon in terms of wage and health care benefits are "far removed from the table."
Sculley's contract includes an 18.75% raise to her base salary of $400,000 over three years and eligibility for a performance-based bonus of up to $100,000.
One of the most recent proposals considered by both sides last year included a 15.75% wage increase, 3% signing bonus, and a health care plan that would have added nominal premiums for dependents under the value plan, but not for the consumer-driven plan.
"If they think they're going to hit rewind and go back to where we were, they are absolutely wrong,” he said. "Our rank and file is adamant that they deserve the same level of respect that (Sculley) received. ... They went to their highest common denominator for her ... why do they routinely try to compare us to the lowest common denominator?"
The Corpus Christi police union deal for a three-year evergreen clause is a "completely different situation," Helle said, brushing off any relevancy to San Antonio's negotiations.
"As much rhetoric has been tossed back and forth, I’m not seeing a clear path (towards resolution) anymore."
The negotiations, he added, were scaring off potential recruits. According to to the City, there are 153 vacancies on its 2,385 police force and 57 cadets in training: 40 are seniors and 17 are juniors. On average SAPD maintains 50-70 vacancies per year.
"Nobody wants to come and work in this hostile environment," said Helle, who expects the number of vacancies to increase if an agreement isn't reached.
*Top image: City staff and Council members, led by Mayor Ivy Taylor, walk down the steps of City Hall before announcing its proposal to resume negotiations with the police union. Photo by Scott Ball.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard Report archive.