Five weeks after Prop B voted down, police contract talks resume

Arbitrator power to overturn firings remains the biggest issue

SAN ANTONIOEDITOR’S NOTE - A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the union’s pay proposal at 14 percent. It is 12 percent. The error has been corrected in the text below.

The San Antonio Police Officers and Association and the City of San Antonio resumed contract talks on Monday, more than a month after voters narrowly rejected a ballot proposition that would have stopped negotiations in their tracks.

The two sides hadn’t sat down to discuss the police union contract since April 19, shortly before the May 1 election on the controversial Proposition B, which would have stripped San Antonio police officers’ power to collectively bargain.

The city and union say the seven-week break had to do with the local election cycle, which concluded with Saturday’s city council runoffs.

“There were a lot of items going on with the election, and the (union) requested the extension. And we agree,” the city’s lead negotiator, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez, told reporters.

“Everybody didn’t want to meet until the new council was elected,” said the head of the SAPOA’s negotiations committee, Sgt. Christopher Lutton. “So, we figure there’s not really a reason to sit down and do anything. So, many other stakeholders wanted to wait until the rest of the council had been impaneled.”

The removal of the existential threat to the negotiation process does not appear to have changed any priorities or positions, especially when it comes to the city’s top goal—changing the appeals process for fired officers.

The city and union remain at loggerheads over proposed changes to the process that has led to two-thirds of fired officers who appeal their firings getting their jobs back.

READ MORE about the appeals process in the KSAT Defenders special investigation - “Broken Blue”

The city’s attempts to reduce the ability of a third-party arbitrator to reinstate a fired officer continue to be met with heavy resistance by the police union, which claims the city wants to institute a system in which it “will not lose.”

“We understand your position,” the union’s lead negotiator, attorney Ron DeLord, told the city team on Monday. “We think it denies the officer a chance to lay their case out, and the way you’ve got it set up, the officer will not win. I don’t see—almost impossible to win any—for any reason.”

The city, for its part, says the current system does not work.

We don’t want a process that will provide the same outcome of having police officers that use racial remarks being back in the force, that have committed acts of domestic violence back on the force. That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” Villagomez said during Monday’s negotiations session. “And, you know, there’s no other employer that I’m aware of that would bring those employees back.”

Though it helped to drive record-breaking turnout, Lutton downplayed any pressure that the results of the May 1 election may have placed on the union to compromise on discipline. Though Proposition B failed, it was by a narrow margin - just 2.3% of the vote.

But Lutton pointed out that most voters still didn’t come out. Countywide voter turnout was about 17.3%.

“What that told us is we had some supporters, we need to work on addressing the needs of the other 8 percent,” Lutton said. “And then we also have to find a way to get that other 83% out.”

The two sides had previously found common ground on other discipline issues, such as expanding the window the police chief has to discipline an officer - known as the “180-day rule,” which infamously for Ofc. Matthew Luckhurst to get his firing for giving a homeless man a feces sandwich overturned.

The chief currently has 180 days from the date of an officer’s misconduct to discipline them for it. However, the city and union have reached general consensus on widening that window in cases when the misconduct would warrant an internal affairs investigation to 180 days from when the department learns of the misconduct.

The union and city have barely even touched upon healthcare or wages. The union wants roughly 12 percent of pay raises for officers over five years, while the city is offering 8%. And the city wants officer contributions for healthcare to continue to go up by 10% each year, while the union wants to drop that annual increase down to 2% year-over-year.

The two sides have agreed to meet again on June 17. Considering the current contract’s evergreen clause could keep current working conditions in place for an extra 8 years past the contract’s Sep. 30 expiration date, it’s anyone’s guess on how long it will take for them to reach a deal.

Also on KSAT:

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.