San Antonio officials made another attempt to negotiate a contract regarding health care and wages with the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association Tuesday, but the union declined to appear. The union’s contract ran out in 2014, and its stalemate with the city has lasted for more than 1,200 days.
Sitting at one side of a table Tuesday, city staff waited for fire union leaders. The union instead sent an email saying it would not attend. The city has made 10 negotiation attempts, but the union said it will not negotiate as long as a city-filed lawsuit remains in play.
“The city manager’s poor decision to choose frivolous litigation over mutual negotiation has not only cost the citizens of San Antonio more than a million dollars in outside attorney’s fees and been rejected by every court that has heard the matter to date, it has also prevented the parties from reaching a new contract,” said union attorney Ricky Pool in the letter.
City spokesman Jeff Coyle said the city was disappointed the union did not accept the invitation, but it has no plans to drop the lawsuit.
“The lawsuit was filed after many months of the fire union refusing to come to the table,” he said.
The union and city are currently operating under a 10-year ‘evergreen clause’ that allows uniformed employees in the San Antonio Fire Department to receive the same healthcare benefits and other provisions until 2024. Under that contract, firefighters do not have to pay healthcare premiums. However, firefighters have not received wage increases since the contract expired.
By the city’s account, the department’s 1,600 firefighters have forgone $20 million in raises, while healthcare costs have gone up from $12,000 per firefighter in 2013 to $20,000 per firefighter in 2018.
“It’s their (union) members who have gone three and half years now without a pay raise, and our tax payers — who continue to fund their unsustainable healthcare plan — who lose here,” Coyle said.
At a union news conference later in the day, fire union president Chris Steel said, “When the lawsuit is dropped, (we’re ) guaranteed to be at the table.”
Steele added: “First, we said 30 days. We’ve said seven days. I’ve had some council people say, ‘Why can’t you do it the next day?’ You know what? I’ll go the next day.”
Last month, the fire union launched several petitions under the name “San Antonio First” —one, of which, would bar the city from filing future lawsuits against the union.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org or on Twitter at @Joeycules