Could Prop C's first use be looming?

Negotiator: Fire union may move for arbitration if negotiations aren't extended

SAN ANTONIO – The controversial city charter amendment, Proposition C, could soon be invoked for the first time since voters approved it in November.

Prop C allows for the fire union to call for arbitration at any time during contract negotiations.

As the city and union approach the end of the 60-day window for contract negotiations, the union's lead negotiator has said if the city does not agree to extend the time period for negotiations, the union would likely look to go to arbitration.

"This shouldn't be a hard decision for the city to make," Ricky Poole said. "All we are asking is to be able to continue the negotiations process, which the city has said since last year -- actually for the last four years -- is what the city has wanted."

"If the city doesn't want to do that, that's fine. We'll go to arbitration. It's not the choice that we're trying to invoke," Poole said.

Sunday will be the last day of the 60-day window before the negotiations are considered at an impasse under state statute. The statute allows for extensions of up to 15 days, which the union has suggested.

The city responded to the union in two letters. The first arrived Thursday morning and another with additional detail was sent later that afternoon.

In both, the city appears to agree to an extension of the negotiating time, but with the participation of a mediator.

"Clearly, simply doing what we have been doing over the past ten sessions leaves no reasonable expectation of resolution," City Attorney Andy Segovia wrote in the second letter to the union outlining the city's proposal.

"One thing the city and the union can agree on is that we must find a productive path forward," Segovia said in a statement. "Prolonged negotiations are a burden on our taxpayers and firefighters when a solution is more likely to be reached by involving a neutral third party."

Prior to the second letter's arrival, which clarified the city's position, Poole said the union did not want to go through mediation.

The process did not get them a contract on the last occasion they tried it, Poole said, and would not be appropriate at the moment since the two sides are too far apart.

"We're certainly not going to make that a condition to extending the time period," Poole said during Thursday morning's news conference.

State law allows for arbitration if the negotiations have reached the point of an impasse. However, it also includes a stipulation that "the parties made every reasonable effort, including mediation, to settle the dispute through good-faith collective bargaining."

Prop C, on the other hand, provides the union with the "unilateral authority" to require the city to participate in binding arbitration at any time.

Poole said the fact that the union didn't try to invoke it on the second meeting should show that their goal is to get a contract and not simply to go to arbitration.

The negotiator said that he would pass the city's second letter clarifying its position on to the union but he was not in a position to say what the union will do next.

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