Union Campaign Not About ‘Transparency,’ But About Tilting the Playing Field

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

City Manager Sheryl Sculley

With the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association launching another campaign to distract from its unwillingness to negotiate a new contract that is affordable to taxpayers, the timing is right to remind San Antonians how we got to this point.

Make no mistake: the union’s campaign is not about “increasing transparency at City Hall,” but rather about attempting to tilt the playing field in its favor to avoid any compromise on its members’ pay and benefits.

The City of San Antonio holds its first responders in high regard. Public safety is our core business, which is why nearly two-thirds of the City’s General Fund Budget is dedicated to public safety. I have recommended, and City Council has approved, adding approximately 600 police and fire uniformed positions during my tenure, while eliminating more than 1,600 civilian positions to fund public safety.

But in order to balance the costs of public safety with other community priorities, the City needs a contract with the fire union that is both fair to employees and affordable to taxpayers.

Since the late 1980s, San Antonio firefighters have paid no monthly premiums for health care for themselves or their families. The healthcare market has changed dramatically in the past 30 years, and costs have grown exponentially. Most of us have had to contribute more of our income to cover the cost of insuring our families.

In 2013, former Mayor Julián Castro and the City Council appointed a task force consisting of business and community leaders and police and fire union representatives to review the City’s healthcare costs and provide recommendations on how to ensure the City maintains a strong financial position for the future. The task force concluded that San Antonio is the only major city in Texas where uniformed employees pay no healthcare premiums for their dependents and that the benefits for public safety employees were “excessive by any metric.” (You may be surprised to know that more than 84 percent of the City’s highest paid employees are police officers and firefighters, not City executives.)

Nine months before the union contracts were to expire in September 2014, the City sought to begin negotiations on new contracts. The contracts, called Collective Bargaining Agreements, are negotiated by the unions on behalf of their thousands of employees.

While talks with the police union were on again, off again, talks never even began with the fire union. To date, the fire union has refused eight invitations from the City to come to the table and bargain. Three-and-a-half years since the 2014 expiration of its contract, the union remains in “evergreen” status due to a clause in the contract that continues pay and benefits for up to a decade after its expiration.

Months after both public safety contracts expired in 2014 – and without new agreements in place with either union – the City filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of evergreen clauses that cannot be changed no matter how much the costs of the contracts escalate. For context, every other City contract contains the clause “subject to annual appropriations by the City Council,” meaning if the elected leaders of our community decide the City cannot afford to continue a particular contract, they can terminate it. The public safety contracts do not contain such language.

The lawsuit led to a judge ordering mediation with both unions, an action the City had requested from the court. Mediation ultimately led to a settlement with the police union. Police officers received a 17-percent raise over the five years of the contract, and for the first time in the City’s history, police officers are now contributing healthcare premiums for their dependents under one of the two healthcare plans they can choose for their families.

Mediation with the fire union, on the other hand, was unsuccessful and declared an impasse. Today the fire union is standing outside of polling locations asking voters to sign petitions that would give them the unilateral right to call for binding arbitration and bypass negotiations.

Binding arbitration would turn the City’s financial future over to an arbitrator who doesn’t have to set tax rates, balance budgets, or manage taxpayer dollars. City Council would no longer to have the ability to determine whether a union contract is affordable and consistent with the needs of employees and taxpayers.

Negotiating involves give and take, and the fire union doesn’t want to compromise. By refusing to bargain for the past three years and now seeking to change the playing field, the union is abandoning any duty to the taxpayers to bargain in good faith.

The City of San Antonio wants to reward its firefighters with a pay raise and also wants a contract that is affordable to taxpayers. The only way to achieve these goals is for the fire union to come to the table and negotiate.

21 thoughts on “Union Campaign Not About ‘Transparency,’ But About Tilting the Playing Field

  1. What could solve the impasse between the City and the Firefighters’ union? A healthcare system in this country that makes medical coverage a universal right rather than a negotiable, very costly privilege.

  2. If police officers can contribute towards dependents’ healthcare premiums, fire fighters should be able to do the same. Though I have much admiration and respect for our public servants like police officers and fire fighters, they need to contribute just like everyone else.

    • Sapd chose and agreed to pay premiums along with a pay increase being the the driving factor for voting Yay.. Firefigters gave up past raises in negotiations to keep their premiums low. Yes their premiums are figured into their salary along with the contract and they have deductibles and all the like too. At the current time no one is disliking their pay when asked which would you rather have? Simply put the city and these articles always put firefighters want a pay increase when the fight is about leaving our benefits alone due to the fact Pay raises were bypassed to leave benefits alone. Now the city is attacking the benefits after they were negotiated in good faith. Bet you didn’t know that.

  3. Sheryl failed to mention the millions of dollars of tax payers money she is spending to sue the fire union over the evergreen clause which she signed off on on both the fire contract and the police contract (which was post lawsuit).

    • Thank you for noticing some relevant facts this article left out. 1:) How much did Sheryl spend to sue the firefighters 2:) didn’t she sign off on the evergreen clause.
      3:) Firefighters have foregone pay raises for many years. Those pay raises were in lieu of healthcare benefits.

  4. The public, especially those that vote would be well served to read Sculley’s commentary. A clear assessment of existing conditions between the City and the Firefighters Union.

  5. What she doesn’t say is how the fire union asked the city during negotiations for the cost of what it takes to insure the firefighters to figure out costs for the city and see how much money is leftover for raises, etc. The city has yet to give up those numbers over 4 years later. If your boss was suing you over a contract they signed but don’t want to honor, would you go out of your way to have discussions with them about anything else?

  6. Would any person in their right mind negotiate with someone who is suing them? Also why does the city continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars refiling a lawsuit they’ve lost twice already? Does The city manager (who gets paid more than the governor and president) pay healthcare premiums? And if this evergreen clause is so bad and unconstitutional why did you just sign a contract with SAPD that has an evergreen clause in it???? You’re saying nearly two thirds of the budget is dedicated to public safety but of that two thirds how much is actually spent on uniformed personnel healthcare benefits. The fire union has asked for a “carve out” of what you claim the healthcare costs and they will manage their own healthcare. Seems like that makes perfect sense. Then it takes your argument of rising healthcare out of the equation. I’m just really confused. Fire union also has agreed to come to the table and negotiate as soon as the city drops the lawsuit of the “unconstitutional” evergreen clause which the city manager agreed to and signed time and time again. I’m just really confused at all this and don’t understand how any sane person would blame the fire union for doing what they are doing. Not only do they protect and save the citizens in their time of need it seems as though they are doing it again in asking for complete transparency and disclosure at city hall.

  7. I need specific numbers and details about the budget, insurance, number of people covered, etc. to make an informed decision. Tell me where I can get that information. Percentages and numbers can be skewed to either sides point if you do not have the whole picture. This type of plea should not be allowed when it comes to our public employees. An outlay a detailed facts plus resources to compare to other like size cities and then each side’s interpretation of those facts should be provided. This would allow for an informed decision by taxpayers. Before you say they can look it up not all people know where to find the information or have time to research. Since as tax payers we are paying

  8. How someone that just got a raise and a big bonus complain about the union wanting better benefits for its members? If she is so concerned about city finances she could lead by example and forgo the bonuses and inflated salary and benefits, and work for the same 75k and benefits that city councilors get

  9. Perhaps Ms Schilley could share what she pays for health insurance and what raises she has gotten since taking office.

  10. But yet Scully did away with the City Marshal program that brought in Millions a year in revenue. Why??? Why is she teaching in Austin for six figures, instead attending yo her ” Full Time” job here. . She mocks others for trying to get what she has in benefits. Just Saying. City vehicle, City paid residence, City paid health and dental insurance, hell her husband gets six figures working for the county. Dammmm.

  11. My dad has been a firefighter for 30 years for the city of San Antonio. He has always paid insurance for himself and his family. The reason for the fight to keep their insurance low is because of the stats and the long term damage to their bodies and lungs. If you have never fought fires our seen kids or grown adults die. Then do your homework find out the facts before you open that pie hole.

    • It’s the dependent coverage that they refuse to pay any thing nobody gets to cover their dependents without paying some thing believe me it’s not cheap

  12. Why not go over the past few collective bargaining contracts with the firefighters and see what they gave up in pay increases to keep the healthcare benefits they currently have.
    Also, how can the city manager continue spending millions of city dollars suing the fire department claiming that the evergreen clause is unconstitutional? She signed several previous contracts. She also just signed the current police contract that contains a shortened evergreen clause. Sorry Sheryl. You can’t have it both ways.

  13. You need to investigate why taxpayers had to pay for her husband to land a job at taxpayers expense. Bexar county created a frivilous position for him or she would not had taken the job. Check it out. Taxpayers got screwed . Twice.

  14. Ms. Scully,
    Stop. Just stop right there.
    You make way too much money for your position. It’s disgraceful. The Fire Department is not the only group of CoSa employees who have sat and listened to your BS. Don’t make the rest of us disgruntled CoSa employees start calling you & CoSa out on your nonsense.
    It’s time the truth came out, and not from an article written by the highest and most disrespectful employee of CoSa.

    This guy said it best:
    Sal Rod on March 4, 2018 at 11:47 AM said:
    But yet Scully did away with the City Marshal program that brought in Millions a year in revenue. Why??? Why is she teaching in Austin for six figures, instead attending yo her ” Full Time” job here. . She mocks others for trying to get what she has in benefits. Just Saying. City vehicle, City paid residence, City paid health and dental insurance, hell her husband gets six figures working for the county. Dammmm.

  15. I’ve seen San Antonio do nothing but improve over the course of Ms Scully’s tenure. I don’t see what her salary and benefits package have anything to do with the contract fight.
    If you don’t like the city manager then elect a mayor and council members that will act to terminate her contract.

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