Binding arbitration under Proposition C may be the next move the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association chooses during its contract negotiations with the city of San Antonio.
The city and the union began meeting in February, and Monday, April 8, marks 60 days -- the point when impasse can be declared under a state statute. In order to continue negotiations, both sides must agree to extension agreements.
The two sides last met on Tuesday for their tenth negotiation session. The union proposed a 15-day extension. The city separately proposed mediation with Deborah Hankinson, a former Texas Supreme Court judge. The city had also presented another proposal to pause negotiations until after bills that would exact tax revenue caps were decided in the Texas Legislature.
The city and union left the table on Tuesday without setting up any further meeting dates.
San Antonio voters approved Prop C last November. It allows the fire union to unilaterally request binding arbitration. Under normal procedures, impasse must be reached before arbitration can be requested. However, the union’s negotiator, Ricky Poole, said arbitration under Prop C would have been a tool available from the beginning of negotiations.
Thursday morning, Poole called a press conference to provide the union’s perspective. He said it wants to continue negotiations, “which the city has said since last year – actually the last four years – is what the city has wanted. And so all we’re asking is to continue that process at the table. If the city doesn’t want to do that, that’s fine. We’ll go to arbitration.”
Before the press conference began, City Attorney Andy Segovia sent a letter to Poole saying the city would agree to a 15-day extension. But he also mentioned mediation.
“We propose continued discussions with a mediator on April 17th and April 18th. We truly believe if we involved an outside third party, it would help bring us all to a faster resolution,” Segovia said in the letter.
Poole said that it wasn’t immediately clear in the city’s letter if mediation would be a condition of accepting the extension.
“I can’t imagine it’s something we would accept as a condition to the extension,” Poole said. “I’ve said from the beginning of this process mediation is also an option that is out there, and to the extent that we get to a point in the process where we believe mediation would be beneficial to the parties we would certainly be agreeable to doing that. We’re not there yet.”
When asked what options were available to Poole, he added, “At this point, it’s continuing to negotiate or likely going to arbitration. Those are the two options that are available right now.”
Thursday afternoon, the city sent a full extension agreement proposal stating the mediation with Hankinson would need to occur during the 15-day extension.
The city’s proposal also added the union would need to present healthcare proposals during the time frame.
“The parties agree that the Union will be prepared to discuss health benefits and premiums at the first mediation session,” it said.
Over the past several weeks the city and union discussed healthcare proposals and are not close to an agreement.
The city has listed two health care plans that would be available to firefighters under a new contract.
One, a consumer driven healthcare plan that would have no premiums for firefighters and dependants, and another, a PPO, that would cover premiums for just the firefighter. The San Antonio Police Officer’s Association agreed to a similar proposal in 2015.
The union had proposed a self-managed healthcare trust but did not provide details as to how the plan would work. City negotiators said they would not consider a trust.
In a written statement following the city’s extension proposal, Segovia said, “One thing the City and the union can agree on is that we must find a productive path forward. Prolonged negotiations are a burden on our taxpayers and firefighters when a solution is more likely to be reached by involving a neutral third party.”
Reached via text, Poole said he continues to be “disappointed the city is placing qualifications and conditions on extending our time to negotiate.”