San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor is hopeful the city of San Antonio and officials representing local police and fire unions can come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement within the next six weeks. That timeline is critical, she said, as extended negotiations could distract from the approaching mayoral and council elections slated for May 9.
“We need to get back to the negotiations so we can get across the finish line,” Taylor told me on Thursday. “I want to keep this out of the campaign.”
City leaders believe there is some room for compromise on both sides.
Union officials have, for example, suggested that the city reduce its contributions to police and fire pension funds by about $4 million over the next five or six years, according to Councilman Joe Krier.
“To make that up, we would need to pay more later,” Krier said.
The short-term adjustment could cost the city roughly $172 million long-term, according to Krier. Yet he and Taylor said they are open to more discussion on such ideas.
“There is some room to be creative and we need to explore those opportunities,” Taylor said.
“I know we can get to a deal,” said Dean Fischer, vice president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association. “But we’ve got to get beyond the rhetoric.”
Fischer, who chairs the union’s bargaining team, did not want to put a time line on a deal. He added that, once the two sides agree to a contract, union members would still have to ratify the terms.
On Wednesday, San Antonio’s Governance Council Committee declined to drop a lawsuit filed by the city in November regarding an evergreen clause in the previous union contracts, which expired on Sept. 30, 2014. The city is seeking legal ruling on the constitutionality of the provision, which states that, absent a new agreement, the prior pacts remain in force until Sept. 30, 2024.
City officials have warned that, without new agreements, the cost to provide health care for public safety workers will increase $1.6 million per month through September 2024.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley told me earlier this month that San Antonio could be on the hook for more than $70 million in tax penalties tied to the Affordable Care Act unless it can come to terms with union officials on a new deal.
Councilman Mike Gallagher said the lawsuit isn’t a personal attack by the city.
“We need people to understand that the lawsuit isn’t against any people,” he said. “It’s about the evergreen clause.”
Gallagher said he believes there is a greater understanding on both sides of the bargaining table about what is at stake — including the city’s bond rating — should negotiations be prolonged.
“I am optimistic,” he said. “I think there is an opportunity to get together and come up with a solution.”
Said Taylor, “I am focused on getting a deal done.”