Fire union says city’s 21.7% raise offer isn’t enough

The City of San Antonio and San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association began negotiating a new contract Friday

SAN ANTONIO – As it begins negotiating a new contract with the City of San Antonio, the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association has a burning desire to deliver a big payday to its members.

But exactly how big still isn’t clear.

With the current contract expiring at the end of the year, the union and city’s negotiating teams exchanged initial proposals Friday for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Health benefits, overtime pay, shift scheduling, and testing practices all made appearances in the first flurry of suggested changes, but firefighters’ base salary will be the basis of any deal.

Firefighters’ wages have only grown about 10.4% since the previous fire contract ended in September 2014. At the same time, inflation exploded by 30.4%, leaving the union anxious to make up lost ground.

However, while it said the city’s initial offer of 21.7% worth of raise over five years wouldn’t cut it, the fire union did not offer a counter-proposal.

SAPFFA President Joe Jones said the union’s members wanted to see “what they (the city) think of us” first.

“‘They know that we’ve been suffering. They know that it’s 10% over 10 years. They know that it’s a 20% pay cut. Let’s see what they think of us,’” Jones told reporters after the meeting, explaining firefighters’ reasoning. “And that resonated. It made a lot of sense. It was logical. Of course we don’t — we also don’t know the constraints that they’re working with financially. You know, and I give that respect to my colleagues across the table.”

Firefighters’ lagging pay is due to a combination of factors. After the previous contract ended in September 2014, the city and union fought for years at the negotiating table, in court, and at the ballot box. At the union’s request, a panel of arbitrators forced the current deal on both sides in February 2020.

The firefighters went more than seven years between the final October 2013 raise of the previous contract and the initial January 2021 raise of the new one. And the 10.4% raise over the life of that deal wasn’t what they had hoped.

With inflation also skyrocketing, the union’s team says firefighters have lost close to $800 in monthly pay compared to 2014.

“The arbitration award that we both received — that was a process that the association chose to follow,” the city’s lead negotiator, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez told reporters after Friday’s meeting. “And the last time around, our proposal was much more generous than that arbitration award. So, you know, that is a decision they made.”

Villagomez and the city’s negotiating team proposed a five-year contract with 4% annual raises. The compounding effect of those raises would bump firefighter pay up by 21.7% over the life of the contract.

The union’s chief negotiator, attorney Richard Poulson, called the proposed bumps “significant.”

“I don’t know when the last time the city has ever made an initial bargaining proposal with raises in that amount, if the city ever has,” he said.

However, Jones said the initial reaction his team was hearing from their membership was that the offer was “underwhelming.”

“Because what I see when I see 20% over five years is I see additional pay cuts over the next half-decade,” he said.

The union wants a three-year contract instead, with an immediate bump to address the gap from inflation and also the difference in pay to San Antonio Police officers, followed by annual raises.

Poulson said the union would deliver a wage proposal before the two sides meet again on April 4.


San Antonio fire union president says contract talks should be departure from past acrimony

About the Author

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

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