Updated 5:47 p.m.
While the San Antonio City Council was confirming Erik Walsh as its next city manager, the local firefighters' union announced Thursday it has requested a return to the negotiating table.
In a letter to city officials, the union's lawyer Ricky Poole said: "We've invited city (officials) to Union Hall next Wednesday (Feb. 7) to commence negotiation proceedings. We're looking forward to the process and we think the time is now to get something done."
The San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association has been working without a contract since it expired in 2014.
During the news conference at the fire association's headquarters, Poole cited several reasons that prompted the union's wish to resume negotiations.
“I think the fact that city finally did dismiss its lawsuit that it brought against the firefighters, that was certainly one factor," Poole said. "I think the change in city hall — in terms of city manager — is certainly another factor.”
The lawsuit filed by the city challenged the legality of a 10-year "evergreen clause," which the union and city have been operating under since 2014. The clause allows uniformed fire department employees to receive the same healthcare benefits and other provisions until 2024. Under that contract, while firefighters do not have to pay healthcare premiums, they are not eligible to receive wage increases since the contract expired. The city dropped its lawsuit in November. The Texas Supreme Court also refused to hear the case in June.
READ | Letter to the city from the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association
Meanwhile, Walsh is no stranger to contract talks, having successfully helped negotiate with the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association. Walsh was also previously at the bargaining table during closed-door mediation sessions with the fire union as deputy city manager.
“I think, the fact of the matter is, that we all need to be fair; fair to the employees; fair to the firefighters; fair to the city; fair to the taxpayers," he said "There’s a balance there, and I think we approach it from a balanced perspective.”
When asked if he would be willing to go into Union Hall to negotiate, as requested by the union, he said with a laugh: "Sure, why not."
“I’ll always be honest and direct with them," he added. "I think I’ve always been honest and direct with them. There are critical issues that need to be resolved and, at the end of the day, I think we can get there. But I think it’s going to take honest and direct dealing.”
Late Thursday, the city confirmed it had accepted the union's request to meet.
"I will disregard the invectives and political advocacy peppered throughout your letter and instead focus on addressing the substantive issues," wrote Andy Segovia, city attorney, in a response to the union. "As we have stated over the last five years, the City is also committed to start good faith negotiations with Local 624 on a collective bargaining agreement that is fair to the members and affordable to the taxpayers. The City will accept your invitation to start that process."
READ| The city's response to the fire union
Prior to the start of the news conference, union officials asked a pair of city representatives to leave the property, including city spokesman Jeff Coyle.
Joey Palacios contributed to this report
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