Understand: Battle between the City of San Antonio and fire union

Both sides started negotiations this week with arbitrators

An arbitration panel will decide the fate of fire union's contract.
An arbitration panel will decide the fate of fire union's contract.

San Antonio – More than five years ago, the San Antonio Police Officers Association and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association pushed back when the city asked officers and firefighters to start contributing to their monthly health care premiums.

In 2016, the police union and the City of San Antonio reached a compromise. The new contract included a 17% pay raise over five years, and officers would pay monthly insurance premiums for family members.

The fire union never came to an agreement with the city. Last year, the union convinced voters to pass a city charter amendment that allows them to take negotiations with the city to an arbitrator.

Arbitration is a process of resolving disagreements outside of a court. Those involved take their disputes to an arbitrator or arbitrators. They review evidence, listen to all parties and then make a decision.

The arbitrator for the fire union is attorney Michael Tedesco. The city chose attorney Phillip Pfeiffer. In August, Judge John J. Specia, Jr. was selected as the third member. Specia is a partner in a law firm specializing in the areas of mediation, arbitration and private judging.

It’s also important to note the key role played by the evergreen clause in the union’s contract with the city. The evergreen clause keeps the terms of the contract valid for up to 10 years after the deal expires. This means San Antonio firefighters have been operating under the terms of the expired agreement since 2014.

The city sued the union and claimed that the clause was unconstitutional. However, it lost, and the city dropped the suit in November 2018.

Fire union representatives repeatedly said they would not negotiate with the city as long as that lawsuit was in place. They have been to the negotiating table since, but have yet to reach a deal.

KSAT reached out to the fire union and the city. The city declined to comment since both sides have been ordered by the panel of judges to not communicate outside of the arbitration process.

The negotiations are expected to last about two weeks. Once both parties reach a decision, it will establish a new binding collective bargaining agreement.

About the Authors:

Tiffany Huertas is known for her in-depth storytelling and her involvement with the community.