Police Union Rejects Mayor’s Deadline: ‘See you in August’

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SAPOA President Mike Helle speaks with reporters after the meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.

SAPOA President Mike Helle speaks with reporters after a contract negotiation session in July 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.

The contract negotiations between the City of San Antonio and police union came to a short-term stalemate Friday afternoon after several hours of proposal analysis. Union officials said Mayor Ivy Taylor's July 31 deadline – to come to an agreement or there could be no wage increases built into the budget next year – was an empty "threat" and the negotiating team will not return to the table again until August.

"It's not a threat, it's a fact," said Jeff Londa, the City's lead negotiator. "The City Manager (Sheryl Sculley) must present a balanced budget to City Council by August 6. These offers are going to expire at the end of July."

Without the financial certainty of a new contract, City budget officers will have to move forward with a fiscal year 2016 General Fund Budget, which starts Oct. 1, that will not include a pay raise or bonus for the city’s 4,000 uniformed police and firefighters. It also eliminates the possibility of a wage increase or bonus in 2015.

"We need to know how much we need to set aside for our proposed budget," said Erik Walsh, deputy city manager.

While the existing contract's evergreen clause enables it to stay in effect for 10 years – the constitutionality of which is currently being challenged by a lawsuit brought by the City – there will be no built-in pay increases for officers until a new contract is signed.

Ron DeLord, the police union's lead negotiator, during the contract negotiations on Tuesday, March 31. Photo by Scott Ball.

Ron DeLord, the police union's lead negotiator, during contract negotiations. Photo by Scott Ball.

"We didn't issue an ultimatum on (when the deadline is), the mayor can answer for herself," said Ron DeLord, the San Antonio Police Officers Association's lead negotiator, who will be on a vacation until the end of July. "We've bargained past July 31 year after year. ... We're prepared to keep bargaining, (but) we're not coming back before July 31 – I'll be on a motorcycle somewhere."

DeLord cited the 1988 contract negotiations that lasted three years. The City would rather avoid the uncertainty of an unsigned contract.

"I'm not prepared to make any comparisons to 1988," Walsh told reporters after the meeting.

"To leave issues like this open because it took us three years to do it 15 years ago? That's absolutely not a good reason for why we shouldn't nail this down now," he added later. "This is why we're challenging the 10-year evergreen clause – it binds us beyond the terms of the agreement."

The need for certainty is tied to the City's ability to maintain a balanced, well-reasoned budget, which effects the City's Triple A bond rating. San Antonio police have a richer benefits program than police in any other Texas city and the costs eat up a higher percentage of the City’s general budget than any other Texas city. The Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force report presented to City Council in March 2014 demonstrated that public safety costs needed to be reined in to avoid a coming financial crisis.

Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh speaks to reporters after the meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.

Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh speaks to reporters after the meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.

Union members are prepared to deal with possible losses in the short-term if it means they'll get a better long-term contract, SAPOA President Mike Helle said. "We have our marching orders from our rank and file, they're very much aware of what the consequences are."

He added that he will be available for the rest of July for informal communications via email to move the conversation forward. "It's not the end of the world," Helle said. "We can pick it up (in August) where we left off."

Police Union negotiations. Photo by Hagen Meyer

Jeff Londa, the City's lead negotiator. Photo by Hagen Meyer.

Both sides have budged, albeit slightly, on their contract proposals during the 18 months of prolonged, often interrupted collective bargaining talks in terms of wage increases and health care benefits. But so far, they've been unable to close the more than $29 million-gap between the City's most recent $45.2 million proposal and union's $74.2 million proposal. The City also modified its March 20 and July 15 proposals and offered them as alternative options totaling. They total $44.2 million and $45.2 million, respectively.

While the police union's proposal would bring the public safety budget to within the Council-mandated goal of 66% of the General Fund, it assumes that the firefighters will accept a contract that includes no wage increases. It's been reasonably estimated throughout the police union negotiations that the firefighters will want a similar – if not more robust – contract that the police receive.

"That's how they were able to achieve 66%," Walsh said. "By leaving nothing for anyone else."

Other disagreements stand in the way of a new contract even if wages and health care concerns are hammered out including contractual language usage and clauses, length of the contract, education reimbursements, and other important details. Also un-touched is the firefighters union contract, representatives have not responded to the City's request for a meeting.

City negotiators said it needs family members of police officers covered by their health care plans to start paying premiums – at least a percentage. SAPOA agrees – but doesn't want to begin with this contract. Helle said they'd rather see a slower transition towards that model. One of the two health care plans in the union's proposal does include some premium cost-sharing. The City's latest rejected offer includes a year of premium-free health care for both plans.

"They've had the same level of health care coverage where they don't pay a premium for themselves or their families for almost 40 years. So asking to change that paradigm in one, big fell swoop – doesn't happen over night," Helle said.

For the first time, SAPOA conceded that members could take a lump-sum as a signing bonus instead of a percentage increase, something that the City has asked for since the beginning. But the Friday's police union proposal – which included a 3% signing bonus – was too high, City officials said, especially when added to other wage increases and longevity pay throughout the life of the contract.

The two teams will likely meet up in early August, but it's unclear how either side's proposals will change during the more than a two week break – after breaking the mayor's deadline.

 

*Featured/top image: SAPOA President Mike Helle speaks with reporters after the meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.

Related Stories:

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

Tensions High as Mayor’s Deadline For Police Contract Looms

City ‘Disappointed’ With Police Union’s Latest Offer

Mayor Taylor Calls Police Union Back to the Table

Commentary: Union Challenge Awaits Next Mayor and Council

Police Union Counters City Proposal

11 thoughts on “Police Union Rejects Mayor’s Deadline: ‘See you in August’

    • It’s part of their total compensation which is why their paychecks are so much smaller than other cities. So taking it away is a pay cut. The city won’t tell you that part.

      • These uniforms will bankrupt the city. They get much better benefits and better pay than any of the rest of the City employees. When we have to cut city services ask a uniform to fix the roads, clean the parks and operate the libraries. The uniforms are lazy and do a horrible job compared to other Texas cities. They are greedy.

  1. I’m on the “other side,” so I see actually both sides. The city needs to stop trying to blame police and fire for every single financial problem or potential financial problem facing the city. Public safety costs money, plain and simple. Now that I’ve left, I’ve gotten to see first hand exactly how freaking spoiled SAPD can appear to the rest of the world. I could go into exactly what I mean, but I don’t have enough time.

  2. Kudos, for the most part a well balanced story. The missing component are the motivations behind the two parties involved. I will not get into the City’s motives but I can speak to mine. As a 25 year veteran of the department and member of the bargaining team, I seen a coming crisis that is not being talked about. Because of the current social climate against law enforcement employees it is becoming a a less than desirable career field choice. San Antonio is already having difficulty attacking and keeping police officers. One of the key recruiting tools used by cities to attract qualified applicants is benefits. The city manager is choosing the move away from that model. Currently, SAPD is under staffed by nearly 150 officers. That number is increasing everyday as members retire. Recently, I have seen a more alarming trend. Young officers are making the choice to leave. Sapoa for decades has bargained healthcare benefits over pay. Now that the city seeks to reverse that model, officers are choosing to leave. if the officer is no longer getting better benefits here as they have in the past they are moving to ” greener pastures”. There is a fast approaching tipping point. The city began a police cadet class of about 25 cadet. The academy is months long. Then these cadets must complete the field training course. Even if they run multiple concurrent classes where will they find applicants to fill them? This is not just a San Antonio problem this is occurring all over the country. So, why is SAPOA trying to hold the line on pay and benefits? SAPOA wants SAPD to attract the best a brightest to San Antonio.

  3. Why is the City saying the Police or Fire won’t see a raise or bonus if a deal is not met by July 31st? There again…the Police are not negotiating for the Firefighters, they haven’t even come to the table yet. To assume the Fird would recieve the same benefits, unless they bargain for them, is a very negligent statement!

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