Police union representatives gathered behind mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte on the steps of City Hall Tuesday morning as she thanked the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) for their endorsement.
The announcement comes while the police union negotiates its contract with the City of San Antonio. There had been a sense that the two sides were becoming close to an agreement after a year of sporadic, tense negotiating as they prepare for their next meeting on March 31.
The concern is that this may mean a new contract will have to wait until after the May 9 City Election.
Neither Van de Putte nor SAPOA President Mike Helle said they think the endorsement would effect talks at the negotiating table, but Helle said "we're hoping that at least, maybe, it will create more synergy with current Mayor Ivy Taylor ... we can cut to the chase and get the deal done.
"We look forward to some fresh air," he added.
Van de Putte, a former state Senator, was described by union leaders as a "long time friend" of the union.
"I believe that (negotiations) are moving forward very rapidly and I'm hoping that we'll come to a resolution," Van de Putte said after the announcement. "It's gone on far too long. I'm hoping that it'll get done quickly. If not, though, it will be my highest priority for me as soon as I'm sworn in as mayor."
The City's latest proposal comes with an equivalent of a 10.8% pay increase – realized through periodic bonuses and raises – and the concession that the City will pay for 100% of police officer health insurance premiums while family members, should they choose to use SAPOA insurance, will be responsible for their own.
The police union has asked for 13.4% increases in wages over that time, and an actual wage increase rather than a onetime lump sum payment once it agrees on the new contract.
"Technically, we're really kinda far apart on a lot of things," Helle said. "We're not interested in bonuses."
"One of the things that draws our attention to Leticia is that, she said it here today, 'We don't sue family,'" Helle said, referring to the lawsuit the City has brought against the police and fire union's 10-year evergreen clause, which allows the current contract to be in place for 10 years until a new agreement is reached. "That was one of the things that Mayor Taylor really failed on – she was an advocate of the lawsuit."
The lawsuit, filed in November 2014, asks for a declaratory judgment from a state district court judge that the evergreen clause in both collective bargaining agreements is unconstitutional.
“As I announced in February, I did not seek, nor interview, nor would I have accepted the endorsement of any organization with whom we are currently negotiating a $500 million contract," stated Mayor Taylor in an email. "How I and the city conduct negotiations won’t change. Last week, the city and the union moved closer to an agreement and I remain confident that a deal can be reached by the Match 31 deadline. Our public safety and fiscal responsibility deserves and needs the security of that resolution.”
Van de Putte also said that too much of the negotiations were played in the media and away from the negotiating table. A holiday truce called by Mayor Taylor to halt advertisements and personal attacks, largely against City Manager Sheryl Sculley, went largely ignored by union members.
"This should never have gotten to this point in the first place and to resolve any difficult negotiation, it should not be done in the press," Van de Putte said. "As candidate Van de Putte or as Mayor Van de Putte, I'm not going to negotiate through the press.
"I believe that it's in the best interest for the people of this community for this contract to be resolved in a way that's fair," she added. "Quite frankly I have been extremely disappointed to see it get to such a personal and sometimes disrespectful level."
*Featured/top image: Leticia Van de Putte accepts the endorsement for her mayoral campaign from the police union on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.