City and police union face divide on discipline and dollars in contract talks

City’s focus on reducing power of third-party arbitrators shaping up to be central part of negotiations with San Antonio Police Officers Association

SAN ANTONIOEDITOR’S NOTE: In the video for this story, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez is incorrectly titled Assistant City Manager. The error has been corrected in the story below.

With all their cards now on the table, the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association will try to bridge the divides in their positions for contract negotiations, especially when it comes to officer discipline.

The city and union met for the fourth time on Friday, which was the last chance for either side to include new proposals for the next five-year police contract. Now, it will be a matter of hammering out a deal based on what each side has requested.

The city has been driving the negotiations so far, with the vast majority of proposed changes coming from its side of the bargaining table -- everything from increased control over scheduling to leave policies. But its top priority is officer discipline, and the most high-profile issue on that front looks to be the hardest sell.

The city wants a third-party arbitrator only to be able to consider the facts of the case in an appeal, not whether a firing was justified --effectively stripping the arbitrator’s power to substitute a lower form of punishment, such as a suspension.

The KSAT 12 Defenders found that, over a 10-year period, roughly two-thirds of officers who sought to appeal their firing were reinstated, either through arbitration or by the police chief.

The chairman of SAPOA’s negotiation committee, Sgt. Christopher Lutton, said “that will probably be the biggest sticking point at this time.”

“We’d still like to have a third party, a neutral third party, be able to change something if there are mitigating facts in there. A lot of things -- there is, you can’t deny that there’s political pressures on chiefs of police throughout the nation due to things going on.”

The union has previously countered the city’s proposal, but city negotiators described it as the “status quo.” No further negotiating on the arbitration issue was done Friday.

“That is the area that we are the furthest apart,” said Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez, who is the city’s lead negotiator.

Unsurprisingly, the two sides also have different thoughts on pay and benefits -- the meat and potatoes of any labor contract.

The city is proposing a series of pay increases totaling 8% over five years. The union wants its members to get at least 12% worth. The city’s proposal foregoes a raise in the first year and then provides 2% increases for each of the remaining four years. The union’s proposal would mandate its members get the same raises that any non-sworn city employees do in the first two years, followed by three consecutive years of 4% pay raises.

However, if non-sworn city employees get raises larger than 4% during the final, the union wants its members to get them, too. It also wants the city to match any raises above 12% that the fire union gets in its next contract.

The city also wants to continue with annual 10% increases in the amount officers contribute to their health plan. The union wants that to go down to 2% increases.

The city traditionally aims to have public safety spending take up less than 66% of its annual general fund budget.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.