Police, fire unions could sue city

If the City Council opts to impose new health care plans for public safety personnel next year, the San Antonio Police Officers Association will sue, its president told the San Antonio Express-News on Monday.
Mike Helle, president of the police union, told the Express-News’ Editorial Board in no uncertain terms that he would fight a council-imposed health care plan.

“First order of business — I’d be filing a class-action contract grievance,” he said. “Second order of business is I’d be walking with my attorneys over to the courthouse and slapping an injunction on them.”

Helle’s comments come about a week after Mayor Ivy Taylor told the Editorial Board that it’s time for the council to consider making an administrative decision to change uniform personnel’s health care. Whether the council has the authority to do so remains in question. City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who’s negotiating team more than a year ago signaled that the council could change cops’ and firefighters’ health care by vote of the annual budget, confirmed that separate sections in the collective-bargaining contracts contradict each other.

One section of the unions’ contracts says health care coverage is derived by collective-bargaining negotiations while another says the council has the right to adjust health care through a vote.

The city and SAPOA have been negotiating over a new labor contract for more than 18 months. The fire union has yet to begin negotiations. Both unions’ contracts expired Sept. 30, 2014 and have been in “evergreen” since. The evergreen clause keeps the status quo of the contracts, save wage increases, for up to a decade while new contracts are being negotiated.

Chris Steele, president of the firefighters union, said Monday that he would take the same steps as Helle if the council decides to impose a new health care plan. He added that he filed a grievance last year when the issue first arose and is prepared to act if the council votes to change benefits and introduce monthly premiums outside of contract negotiations.

“I would also do the same thing as the police,” he said. “I’d seek a temporary restraining order against the city until they had a hearing to determine if that was a legal act for them to do..”

Meanwhile, Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, said his organization is keeping a close watch on negotiations in San Antonio. At the Editorial Board meeting, Wilkison admonished Sculley for her handling of negotiations and said it didn’t appear as if the city was bargaining in good faith.

The tenor of negotiations here, he said, is a “departure” from the norm “and one we don’t want to see in the Scott Walker world we’re in.”

Helle said SAPOA and the city are locked in a stalemate. Contract negotiations could resume, he said, in mid-August.

jbaugh@express-news.net

Twitter: @jbaugh

http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Police-fire-unions-could-sue-city-6408412.php?t=f1a34ccf93d1251f52&cmpid=email-premium