Police union releases recording of telephone poll

Officials claim questions are biased in favor of city

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Police Officers' Association Monday released an audio recording of a controversial telephone poll conducted regarding collective bargaining negotiations between the city and police and firefighters' unions.

The poll has been slammed by union officials, who called it a push poll, which the American Association for Public Opinion Research describes as "an insidious form of negative campaigning, disguised as a political poll.

'Push polls' are not surveys at all, but rather unethical political telemarketing -- telephone calls disguised as research that aim to persuade large numbers of voters and affect election outcomes, rather than measure opinions."

When news of the poll first broke, City Manager Sheryl Sculley and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Richard Perez both denied involvement. Sculley has since admitted that she knew the poll was being conducted, but did not know the content of the questions. Perez defended the poll and said the notion that it is a push poll was incorrect.

Union President Michael Helle said the pair is colluding to destroy the union's current collective-bargaining agreement, which expired on Sept. 30.

"They denied it, which they lied about. They blamed us for doing it, which is another lie," Helle said. "And then, when they finally get caught and the story broke out with the audio recording, now they start pointing fingers."

Through City Spokeswoman Di Galvan, who mistakenly left a voice-mail message intended for Perez on a firefighter's cellphone revealing Perez and Sculley's involvement, the city responded to the union's claim in a statement that said, "Although the City is not involved in the Chamber's community survey on public safety health care costs, we are always interested in the opinions of our residents.  The unions are upset about a survey because they know the public supports City Council's goal to maintain a balanced budget that ensures public safety costs do not crowd out other essential City services. The unions should stop creating distractions by focusing on what other groups are doing, and start focusing on negotiating their own contracts in good faith."

The poll was conducted by Promark Research Corp., which specializes in polling and consumer surveys.

The initial questions the pollster asks are very straightforward. 

"Do you favor or oppose reforming health care coverage for San Antonio police officers and firefighters?" the pollster asks an unidentified registered San Antonio voter. "Do you favor or oppose removing health care benefits from the labor unions' collective bargaining process?"

Click here to hear the entire poll.

Helle said the questions begin to resemble a push poll when the pollster asks the resident

whether he agrees or disagrees with several loaded phrases. Such as:

"Attacking the city manager on TV and the radio is not helping San Antonio find a way to maintain public safety laws while keeping up with the cost of maintaining our parks and libraries and street maintenance."

"Currently the police and firefighter unions are not negotiating with city officials on their benefits contract. Do you think it's time the police and firefighters got back to negotiating with the city?"

"Reasonable cost-cutting measures are what all of us experience every day at home and work because everything cost more than it did 25 years ago. The city manager is just doing her job by questioning how the city can find savings from a 25-year-old union contract."

The unions want the City Council to step in, and Helle warned that unless things change it will be a very unhappy new year.

"It's really difficult to negotiate with somebody when they're being deceitful," he said. "Until we get someone with some credibility on the other side of the table, it's not going to be very fruitful."