SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio police union’s negotiation team says Mar. 23 -- next Tuesday -- is likely the deadline for cobbling together a deal if they want to get a new contract finalized before the May 1 election.
San Antonio voters will decide during that election whether to repeal Chapter 174 for police officers, the statute on collective bargaining that gives police the power to negotiate a collective contract in the first place. But even if voters pass Proposition B on May 1, the San Antonio Police Officers Association could still get a new deal so long as its members and the city council ratify the contract before the city council canvasses the election results on May 12.
However, if voters pass Proposition B and there’s no ratified contract by the canvassing date, any ongoing negotiations would be stopped in their tracks, and the future of any new police contracts would be up in the air.
The election isn’t for another six weeks, and the canvass vote isn’t for a week-and-a-half after that. However, early voting begins on Apr. 19 -- the same day the city and union have tentatively scheduled as the final day of negotiations.
“I’m just telling you if you go past Mar. 23, you’re getting in territory where there’s not enough wiggle room for it,” SAPOA’s lead negotiator, attorney Ron DeLord, said during a Friday negotiating session. “And I don’t know if there’s the will of the council to vote on something so close to the election. I don’t know that. You saying they’re going to ratify on April 19th?”
DeLord suggested there are two paths forward: either put some long-term issues aside, such as the city’s proposal for the promotion process, to get a contract finished before the election, or recognize that’s unlikely and take the time to consider things in-depth.
Asked after Friday’s negotiating session whether the city team had made a decision on the possibility of a Tuesday deal, the city’s lead negotiator, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez, said the city’s position from the beginning has been that they have negotiation dates until mid-April.
“Our position has been bargaining in good faith under our existing laws, and we plan to continue to do that,” Villagomez said.
In any case, a Tuesday deal looks like a long shot given the continued gap between the two sides on the city’s top priority -- the appeal process for fired officers.
The city wants to ensure that officers who are fired for misconduct are not put back on the job, and it has proposed that third-party arbitrators during appeals would only be able to consider the facts of the case. If the facts are upheld, under the city’s proposal, an arbitrator would be unable to substitute the firing with a lighter punishment as they can now.
“That is our goal, that we don’t retain these employees that we strongly believe do not represent SAPD, that shouldn’t be serving the community. Those officers that have been reinstated and still serving the community should not be doing so,” Villagomez said during negotiations.
The union team, though, is adamant its members need protection against unjustified discipline, including firings that might be the result of political pressure on the police chief. They want an officer to be able to continue to argue that their firing, especially when compared to similar cases, was not justified.
Union negotiators also believe they’ve given ground on other disciplinary issues that should help address concerns about bad cops being reinstated, like expanding the window of time the chief has to issue discipline and removing the limits on what kind of prior discipline against the officer can be included to justify the chief’s decision.
The union team has also countered the city’s arbitration proposal with one they say narrows the scope of what an arbitrator can consider. The city team, however, has said it’s “nothing more than the status quo” and has not updated its original arbitration offer.
“You haven’t moved an inch,” DeLord told the city team during Friday’s negotiations. “You’ve given no light, no opportunity, compromise, nothing. It’s been our way or the highway.”
Villagomez told reporters after Friday’s session that the city team would be doing some research over the coming days.
“Our goal, again, is to be able to make substantial change when it comes to the way that arbitration is handled today -- the jurisdiction of the arbitrator,” Villagomez said.