Editor’s note: Find more news about the May 1 San Antonio election on our Vote 2021 page.
San Antonio voters who are hoping to learn more about Proposition B have the chance to hear both sides make their pitch after a debate hosted by KSAT, San Antonio Report and Bexar Facts.
Leaders of the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) — who oppose the proposition that would take away their collective bargaining rights — and leaders of Fix SAPD — the police reform group that organized the petition to get the proposition on the ballot — stated their case to voters in the event, which you can watch on demand in the video player above.
If the voters approve Prop B, Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code would be repealed, halting current negotiations between the city and the police union on the upcoming collective bargaining agreement.
Proponents argue that it will give the city more power to hold problematic police officers accountable. The police union argues that without collective bargaining rights, recruitment and retainment of quality police officers will suffer.
A new poll released this week showed more than a quarter of likely San Antonio voters are still undecided on Prop B with less than a month before the May 1 election. Of those who say they’ve picked a side, 34 percent support and 39 oppose.
Panelists included Sgt. Rachel Barnes, a licensed attorney and member of the San Antonio Police Officers Association’s contract negotiation team; James Dykman, data and policy analyst for Fix SAPD; and Liz Provencio, a City attorney who serves on the team negotiating with the union on a new contract.
Union President Danny Diaz had been scheduled to participate, but he withdrew because of a scheduling conflict.
“Many voters are undecided, and among even those with a position on the measure, relatively few are fully committed to vote that way,” said Dave Metz, founder of FM3 Research, which conducted the poll for Bexar Facts. “It’s likely that the ballot language is a little technical and confusing, and many voters are in need of additional information.”
A challenge for both Fix SAPD and SAPOA in the coming weeks will be to win over voters who may hold a more nuanced stance on police reform.
“There are other numbers that provide some clues, but they don’t all point in the same direction,” Metz said. “Overall, voters approve of the performance of SAPOA – which might give some credibility to their campaign. But at the same time, we also see that a majority view the police union as an obstacle to police accountability – which is obviously a theme that proponents may emphasize.”
Campaigning has been tense for Fix SAPD and the police union alike. Union leaders have accused Fix SAPD of aligning itself with groups that have called to “defund police.” The activists who are pushing for the proposition have also felt threatened and harassed by SAPOA supporters.
What happens if Prop B passes?
Assuming the city and union haven’t finalized a new contract before Prop B passes, the current one would continue through Sep. 30 when it expires. After that point, all the previously negotiated provisions both sides have been operating under -- everything from hiring procedures to health insurance -- would be thrown out.
Another state statute, Chapter 143, or “civil service,” would govern how the city handles issues such as officer discipline, promotions and hiring. Officers’ pay and health benefits, on the other hand, would largely fall under the city’s discretion.
Collective bargaining isn’t the only way police officers could negotiate a contract, though. Some other major police departments, like Austin and Houston, use a process known as “meet-and-confer,” which is substantially similar to collective bargaining. However, there’s nothing to force either side to negotiate like there is with the collective bargaining process.
“They have a heavy interest in talking to one another and fixing problems, and (meet-and-confer) gives them the tool,” said Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, of which SAPOA is an affiliate. “And so, if you decide that you’re at impasse, then you don’t have to do anything. And so you could -- both parties could agree to a mediator, but it’s not forced by a time clock. And so those are the major differences. Other than that, you couldn’t tell the difference.”
But it’s not a simple matter of exchanging collective bargaining for a meet-and-confer system of negotiation. State law requires a petition process from officers and a vote -- either by the city council or the city as a whole -- before meet-and-confer can be put into use.