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City And Fire Union Select Arbitrators For Contract Negotiation

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Earlier this year, the city and fire union agreed on some contract terms and signed several agreements but the biggest components - wages and healthcare - remain. (File photo)

The City of San Antonio and San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association are ready to begin Arbitration under Proposition C.

Both sides have selected arbitrators who will decide on a binding healthcare and wage contract for fire fighters. The contract between the city and fire union expired in 2014 but negotiations didn’t actually begin until February of this year. The union received its arbitration invoking powers from voters.

On July 2, the fire union called for arbitration during a declaration of impasse. The city and fire union met 19 times over the previous five months, 10 of which were mediation sessions that proved unsuccessful.

Both sides had 15 days since July 2 to select arbitrators of their choosing. 

At a briefing on Wednesday, members of the city’s negotiation team said the city has selected local attorney Phil Pfeiffer as its arbitrator. On his website, Pfeifer says he has represented employers in management and union matters.

The fire union selected Portland, Oregon based attorney Mike Tedesco who has a focus on public safety labor contract negotiations.  

The city officials said the next step in the process is Tedesco and Pfeifer will have ten days to select a third arbitrator. If they are unable to come to an agreement, a process outlined by the American Arbitration Association will help decide who the third arbitrator will be.

The three arbitrators will make up a panel to ultimately decide the contract.

It would be the first time an entire public safety contract for a major city in Texas would be decided by arbitration.

The city’s public safety contracts with police and fire make up about $618 million, which is the largest expenditure from the city’s general operations fund.

Texas Public Radio reached out to attorneys and counsel for the fire union but did not immediately hear back.

By mid-August, the city and fire union must submit their contract terms to the arbitrators. The arbitration could take about 20 days. A decision would end a five year stalemate.

While arbitration is not uncommon in labor disputes, the fire union was granted a unique authority by voters. It’s the sole entity that can declare impasse and use arbitration due to Prop C. Voters approved giving the union that power in the November 2018 election.

The proposition was one of two that passed under a union driven campaign known as “San Antonio First.” A third proposition failed.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules