SAN ANTONIO – Though police contract talks continue to move forward, the chairman of the police union’s negotiating team says it’s unlikely the city and union will reach a deal before the May 1 city election.
“Probably not,” Sgt. Christopher Lutton told KSAT, when asked after a bargaining session on Friday. “I mean, we talked about it at the beginning, right? It was a slim window that we may be able to get into. And so, it doesn’t look like we’ll make that window.”
The City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association have yet to reach compromises on major components of the five year contract: officer’s pay, their health care costs, and the city’s primary goal for this contract - changing the appeals process for fired officers. Though there are only two more bargaining sessions in the original schedule, talks can continue past that if both sides agree.
Any deal reached at the negotiation table would still have to ratified by both the union membership and the city council.
The timing of when the city and union reach a deal could end up being important because of Proposition B, a ballot measure that would strip San Antonio police officers of their collective bargaining powers. If voters pass Prop B before a new contract is finalized, any ongoing negotiations would be stopped in their tracks.
If voters reject Prop B, there would be no effect on the contract negotiation process.
There could be some headway at the next scheduled negotiating session, Friday, Apr. 16, when both sides plan to bring in experts to help with discussions on the appeal process and health care.
Regarding the appeal process, the city wants to make it harder for the police chief’s discipline to be overturned through third-party arbitration, while the union wants to ensure its members can challenge what they consider unfair firings.
The city’s original proposal would not allow an arbitrator to “substitute his/her judgment for the judgment of the Chief on discipline.” That idea doesn’t sit well with the union, which wants an arbitrator to keep their ability to compare the level of discipline to previous, similar cases.
The city team has rejected two union counter-proposals on the subject so far, including one introduced before Friday’s bargaining session, on the grounds that they were too close to the existing process.
So the issue “remains pretty much the same to the same position that we were just a few sessions ago,” the city’s lead negotiator, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez said.
The city and union have tried talking the issue over in closed-door subcommittee discussions, but both sides say those are now done. They each plan to bring an outside attorney to the meeting on Apr. 16 to help with discussions.
In the health care sphere, the two sides differ on how much they believe officers should have to pay for health care. The city wants to keep raising officers’ premiums year-over-year by 10%, but the union wants to reduce that down to 2%.
The city and union also plan to have their respective health care experts join them for the Apr. 16 meeting.
“I think it’s a very good sign that we have our experts coming to the table to further discuss that,” Villagomez told KSAT after the meeting. “And so I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to resolve some of the outstanding issues.”
The current police contract expires after Sep. 30, but an evergreen clause would keep the terms in play for up to eight years if a new contract is done by then.