City, fire union labor dispute flares up after campaign takes aim at city manager, charter

SA Firefighters union asking voters to support 3 petitions

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SAN ANTONIO – The labor dispute between the city of San Antonio and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association flared up Tuesday after the president of the association, Chris Steele, announced a campaign asking voters to support three petitions to amend the city charter and make changes to the city manager position.

Steele said the campaign called “San Antonio First” is an effort to provide transparency and accountability at city hall and get more voter involvement in city issues.

The three petitions include city manager charter changes, firefighters "good faith” contract arbitration and voter access.

The first petition directly focuses on the city manager position. The amendment would place new limits on salary level and length of employment.

A key part of the second petition would be to require arbitration from a neutral third party if collective bargaining negotiations between the city and the police or fire unions reach an impasse.

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The association issued a media release that details each petition. The full document can be seen below.

KSAT contacted the city of San Antonio for a response to the association’s campaign. The city responded with a fact checklist and a statement from city manager Sheryl Sculley that read. 

"This is more gamesmanship from a fire union that refuses to renegotiate a contract that expired more than three years ago. The only way to give firefighters the compensation they deserve is for the union to come to the table and bargain in good faith.” 

The facts provided by the city included: 

  • Only 40 percent of San Antonio firefighters actually live in the City of San Antonio. In other words, the majority of San Antonio firefighters are not City taxpayers or voters.
  • Of the highest paid City of San Antonio employees, more than 80 percent are firefighters or police officers. San Antonio firefighters are among the best compensated in the state.
  • While first responders across the country contribute to the cost of their family healthcare, San Antonio firefighters continue to pay no monthly premiums.
  • During City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s tenure, the City has added nearly 600 firefighters and police officers, including nearly 100 this year alone.
  • San Antonio continues to be one of the safest big cities in America. In fact, in 2017 serious crime was down 6 percent, including a 16 percent decline in murders.
  • A Charter Commission was created in 2017 and is already looking at potential amendments to put on the ballot.
  • While he calls for term limits for others, Chris Steele has been president of the fire union for more than a decade.

The city ended its statement to KSAT by saying, "It stands ready to negotiate a contract that is fair to firefighters and affordable to taxpayers.”

At a press conference Tuesday announcing the campaign, Steele was confident the union could get the signatures needed to amend the charter.

“In the end this has to go to a vote of the citizens, let’s see where the citizens fall on this issue,” Steele said. “Let the voters decide."

SA Firefighters union asking voters to support 3 petitions by Mary Claire Patton on Scribd

About the Author:

RJ Marquez has been at KSAT since 2010. He's covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area, and is the lead reporter for KSAT Explains. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms. You can see RJ regularly on KSAT Explains and Good Morning San Antonio. He also writes a weekly Spurs newsletter.