San Antonio – San Antonio Police officers have approved a new union contract that would make it harder for fired cops to get their jobs back but would also raise officers’ pay by nearly 16% over four years.
The contract would run through September 2026, but the San Antonio City Council must also approve it before it would take effect. They are scheduled to consider the contract on May 12.
The San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA), the union representing SAPD officers, reported Tuesday that 86% of its members who cast a ballot had voted to ratify the proposed contract.
“This contract approval is the result of hard work of our contract negotiation team and the city leadership focusing on delivering a fair contract to police officers that protects their pay and benefits and recognizes the uniquely challenging job of law enforcement today,“ said SAPOA President John “Danny” Diaz.
“This contract also includes key goals the city leadership that incorporated accountability measures to continue building the best police department in the nation.”
About 66% of the 2,370 eligible SAPOA members voted on the contract, according to the union, including one abstention. Diaz couldn’t say why nearly 800 officers did not vote during the Apr. 11-25 election, suggesting possible reasons like vacation or military leave.
“What I do know is this is the most we’ve ever seen in any election that we’ve had for our contract,” Diaz said.
The SAPOA and City of San Antonio negotiating teams finished hammering out the tentative contract on March 2 after more than a year’s worth of meetings.
The process, though, lacked the acrimony that consumed the previous contract discussions, when the city’s focus on driving down health care costs put it at loggerheads with both the police and fire unions.
The negotiations -- and lack thereof -- that took place between March 2014 and September 2016, involved a court case over the evergreen clause and mediation. However, the leadership has since changed up, with Erik Walsh replacing Sheryl Sculley as city manager and Diaz taking over previous SAPOA President Mike Helle.
This time around, the 33 sit-downs that began in February 2021 were heavily focused on the city’s priorities for officer discipline, especially reducing how much power a third-party arbitrator has to reinstate fired police officers.
However, Act 4 SA, a police reform group that rose out of an effort to strip SAPOA of its power to collectively bargain for a contract, said it still wants to see additional reforms, such as getting rid of a civilian advisory board to make way for more a stronger, independent oversight office.
City officials say the proposed contract would make SAPD officers the second-highest-paid in the state, following Austin.
“I am pleased that the San Antonio Police Officers Association ratified a tentative collective bargaining agreement that not only compensates our officers for the great work they do, but ensures the disciplinary process is fair, balanced and reflects the community’s expectation that officers be held accountable for actions that undermine community trust,” said San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh in a statement following the announcement.
“I appreciate the San Antonio Police Officers Association for their willingness to work with us to set a new standard of what is possible when the City and the Union work together towards a greater goal.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg also released a statement in support of the tentative contract.
“This is an agreement that achieves the objectives of the city and the police officers association. It is a fair contract that addresses concerns about disciplinary procedures adn provides our officers with fair compensation and benefits,” Nirenberg said. “The officers’ approval is a vote of confidence in the new association leadership.”
You can check out the HIGHLIGHTS below or see the full, proposed contract HERE.
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 ended up getting their jobs back, either by an arbitrator’s award or after the police chief reconsidered their termination.
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 would 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 previous 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.
The city’s lead negotiator, Deputy City Manager Villagomez, pointed out, though, 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 nearly eight months already, 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.