San Antonio – After just over a year’s worth of talks, city and union negotiators have hammered out a tentative deal for a new contract to cover San Antonio police officers for the next four-and-a-half years.
The deal includes various changes to officer disciplinary processes, including an attempt to limit an arbitrator’s ability to reinstate fired cops. The police chief will also have more time to punish officers for misconduct in the first place.
“I think this tentative agreement re-balances the disciplinary process,” said Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez, the city’s lead negotiator. “It gives that deference to the chief in terms of making the decision on discipline, and it also provides due process to our police officers.”
On the other side, raises would boost officers’ pay by more than 15% by the end of the contract in September 2026. They would also get a 2% lump sum payment once the contract takes effect.
City officials say the contract would make SAPD officers the second highest paid in the state, following Austin.
“Our members were looking for financial increases, and I believe we got that for them. And I believe at the same time, we also addressed some of the concerns of the city and the citizens,” said Sgt. Chris Lutton, the chairman of the union’s Collective Bargaining Committee.
The tentative agreement still needs to be approved by the membership of the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) and the San Antonio City Council before it’s official.
Union negotiators believe the membership will vote by late April, after which it would head to council members. The contract would run through FY 2026.
The deal came at the end of the 33rd meeting between the two sides since talks began in February 2021.
LIMITED ARBITRATOR POWER
The city’s number one target was limiting an arbitrator’s power to reinstate an officer who appealed their indefinite suspension, which is tantamount to a firing.
The KSAT Defenders found roughly two-thirds of officers who appealed their indefinite suspensions.
Under the previous contract, city officials argued an arbitrator had too much power to overrule the chief and reduce an indefinite suspension to some lesser punishment, bringing the officer back into the department.
In the new deal, an arbitrator can only overturn an indefinite suspension if the chief fails to establish that the conduct was either: bad enough that keeping them on would be detrimental to the department, or that “law and sound community expectations” would see as good reason to fire them.
180-DAY RULE EXTENDED
The police chief now has a much longer window in which he can discipline officers for misconduct.
Previously, the chief had to issue discipline for non-criminal conduct within 180 days of it happening. Under the new deal, he’ll have 180 days of the point when he knew -- or should have known -- about it.
There will still be a statute of limitations on how long ago the misconduct happened -- two years -- though city officials say that won’t apply to criminal conduct.
The city says this is similar to what it has in the fire union contract.
NO TIME LIMITS ON PRIOR DISCIPLINE
The previous contract limited how far back the chief could go to dig up prior discipline when making his case on a new suspension - ranging from two to 10 years, depending on the type of violation.
The new contract would get rid of those time limits, allowing the chief to include any prior discipline “that is relevant or likely to show a cause for progressive discipline.”
This was the big win for the police union, whose members will get a 2% lump sum payment once the contract is finalized. They will see the following raises to their pay checks through the contract:
- Apr. 1, 2023 - 3.5% across-the-board wage increase
- Apr. 1, 2024 - 3.5% across-the-board wage increase
- Apr. 1, 2025 - 4% across-the-board wage increase
- Apr. 1, 2026 - 4% across-the-board wage increase
Taking into account compounding interest, officers’ paychecks will grow by 15.9% over the life of the contract.
The union also agreed to forego any extra pay from the $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act money that the city council approved for spending on city employees.
Additionally, the contract no longer includes a clause mandating raises that would match any the fire union gets -- a longtime staple of police and fire contracts.
NO CHANGE TO EVERGREEN
The police union’s evergreen clause keeps contract’s terms in place, even after it expires. Though officers’ pay is frozen during that time, opponents of the clause argue that it gives the union unfair leverage to walk away from the bargaining table.
That was an especially big concern during the last round of contract talks, when the city was trying to overhaul officer and firefighter health care. The city even tried to get the clause declared unconstitutional in an unsuccessful attempt to get around it during those negotiations.
Though the city ultimately got the police union to agree to cut the clause from 10 years down to eight in the last contract, the city team made no attempt to negotiate it down any further this time.
Villagomez pointed out, though, that the clause now includes increasing health care costs during the evergreen period, which the city believes is enough of an incentive for the union to wrap things up quickly.
The union has been in evergreen for five months during these negotiations after the previous contract expired Sep. 30, 2021.
Although this was the key issue in the 2016-2021 contract, there was very little haggling over health care costs.
Officer health care contributions will continue to go up by 10 percent every year, which will continue even in an evergreen period.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg:
“Considering the history of prior collective bargaining negotiations, I’m personally thrilled that the City of San Antonio and the new SAPOA leadership have been able reach a deal in roughly a year that both sides agree is right for the public and right for our uniformed officers and their families.”
City Manager Erik Walsh:
“This agreement compensates our officers for the great work they do, while ensuring that the disciplinary process is fair and balanced for our Police Chief to address officer misconduct. I want to thank the San Antonio Police Officers Association for their good faith negotiations. I hope this sets a new standard of what is possible when the City and the Union work together towards a greater goal. Both parties came to the table with priorities and a genuine willingness to negotiate, and I believe both parties achieved what they set out to accomplish.”
SAPOA President John “Danny” Diaz
“After a year of negotiations, we are proud to announce a tentative Collective Bargaining Agreement between the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) and the City of San Antonio. Our Bargaining Team and City leadership made consistent movement towards an agreement that maintains healthcare benefits, increases wages, and provides updates to police accountability practices.
In any negotiation there are always challenging moments, but both sides consistently worked towards our shared goals of providing a contract that protects police officers, while delivering on community concerns about the future of law enforcement and police accountability in San Antonio. We believe we have met our shared goals and are delivering the contract to our Membership for input and review. Over the next few weeks, we will brief our SAPOA family and request ratification of the contract in a formal vote.
I want to thank our SAPOA Bargaining Team for their hard work and dedication to our law enforcement family. I also extend my gratitude to City leadership for fair negotiations and the teamwork to reach this tentative agreement.”