After an Endorsement, Police Union Adopts Wait-And-See Strategy

SAPOA negotiations

Collective bargaining talks between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association came to a sudden if undeclared impasse Tuesday after union officials rejected the city’s latest improved wage and benefits proposal and refused to present a counter-offer. The morning meeting broke up after two hours amid new recriminations over each side’s financial assumptions, signaling diminishing odds a new contract can be achieved before the May 9 City Election.

The end to amicable meetings and demonstrable progress came one week after police unions officials and mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte staged a joint endorsement press conference on the steps of City Hall. Both Van de Putte and SAPOA President Mike Helle said then that they expected talks to continue unaffected by the mid-campaign endorsement, but that clearly proved not to be the case on Tuesday.

At the time of the collective bargaining meeting, the four leading mayoral candidates were holding a forum at KLRN-TV, but the presence of mayoral politics hovering over the collective bargaining talks was palpable.

Houston attorney Jeff Londa, who has served as the City’s lead negotiator since talks began nearly one year ago, opened the session by noting the City’s improved offer placed on the table when the two sides last met on March 20.

“It’s your turn,” Londa told Georgetown attorney Ron DeLord, the police union’s lead negotiator.

“We made a proposal that works for us,” DeLord replied, referring to the proposal the union put on the table March 17, making it clear the union did not come to table with anything new.

Londa proceeded to compare notes with DeLord on the unresolved wage and benefits issues as well as some of the so-called special item issues, and then took the City team into caucus to debate a response to the union’s decision to not counter the City’s most recent proposal. For all the minutia of those differences, City budget experts say the City’s proposal would cost $12,485 for each police officer versus the union’s proposal which would cost between $13,748 and $14,196 for each officer (see charts for detailed comparisons of the two proposals).

When the two sides reconvened it quickly became apparent there would be no deal Tuesday, as some had hoped.

“As the city made the last proposal am I correct that the union is not willing to make any movement at this time off its last proposal?” Londa asked.

“We’re open to discussion,” DeLord replied.

“I don’t see any movement in your position,” Londa said.

“I don’t see any movement in my position right now,” DeLord shot back.

Londa reiterated the City’s long-standing commitment to keep total public safety spending to 66% of the General Fund Budget, and said the union’s plan, if also applied to a new contract with the firefighters union, would increase that percentage “to 68% the first year, 69% the second year, and 69.9% the third year. Each 1% costs the city $10 million a year,” Londa said.

“That’s your artificial measurement,” DeLord said, repeating the union’s position that a City budget predicted to grow for each of the four years of any new contract, could accommodate higher wage increases for union members.

DeLord said the police union’s proposal, excluding the firefighters, who have refused to bargain, only represents 31% of the general budget. That was the first time the police union had made that specific assertion and it led to renewed claims by both sides that the other’s financial assumptions were not to be trusted.

Here is the Rivard Report’s analysis of current public safety spending in San Antonio:

For fiscal year 2015, which began on Oct. 1, 2014, the City’s General Fund Budget is $1,048,305,115. The total public safety budget is $699,635.581, or 66.7% of the total. Of that amount, $406,613,678 is for the San Antonio Police Department, or just under 39% of the general fund. $12,597,090 is for parks police, and $280,064,723 is for the San Antonio Fire Department, just under 28% of the general fund. The City has 2,375 uniformed police officers and 1,663 firefighters.

“If we can’t do it today, I don’t think we are going to change our position,” DeLord said. “The timing may not be right.”

Houston attorney Jeff Londa, the City’s lead negotiator. Photo by Scott Ball.Houston attorney Jeff Londa, the City’s lead negotiator. Photo by Scott Ball.
“The city is not prepared to negotiate with itself, to negotiate alone,” Londa said as temperatures rose on both sides of the table.

“I don’t want to get in a pissing match, but I’m headed that way,” DeLord said at one point.

Before the talks recessed, DeLord said, “Is there anything else we can get done today? No, but we are prepared to continue bargaining. We aren’t waiting to see who the next mayor will be…we think we are close…I think we’re down the wire. You have not brought what it takes for us to make a final deal…If you have anything else, we need to have it, otherwise we are going to be bogged down for another four or five months.”

Afterwards, DeLord told the Rivard Report any deal will have to come within one week. In two weeks he is leaving for a float trip through the Grand Canyon, “and then there is Fiesta, so by then, we might as well wait until after the election.”

I asked Helle about the union’s newly introduced 31% claim, which was not supported with any financial data Tuesday, and whether it signifies the police union distancing itself from the firefighters union and hoping to secure a new contract even if the firefighters persist in not bargaining. Traditionally, the two unions have accepted virtually identical bargaining agreements and contracts.

“We have never negotiated as a partnership,” Helle said. “We are ready to reach a fair deal as the police union.”

At least for now, that seems less likely than it did before the police union abandoned its neutrality in the mayor’s race and decided to endorse Van de Putte. Previously, Helle had praised Mayor Ivy Taylor for what he said were efforts by her to establish a more conciliatory tone that led to a resumption of the on again, off-again talks. Union officials now appear to believe they will win a better contract if focus instead on helping Van de Putte win election.

“We were dismayed, surprised and disappointed that the police union did not come forward today and make a counter to (the City’s) offer,” Londa said before leaving. “They didn’t. They stayed with the offer they made before our last offer. That’s not progress.”