Tension Growing at San Antonio City Hall Over Stalled Firefighter Talks

Mayor Nirenberg is firing back against claims by northwest side Councilman Greg Brockhouse that the City has 'wasted' nearly $1.3 million in legal fees fighting to have the 'Evergreen Clause' in the 2011 contract with the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association dismissed, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

“The true outrage is the $6 million that taxpayers have spent on union members’ divorces and child custody cases during the four years since the lawsuit was filed," Nirenberg said. "The legal fund is just one part of the fire union’s unsustainable contract. Taxpayers are paying for the legal fund in lieu of the firefighters coming to the table to negotiate."

Brockhouse, who was a consultant to the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association before being elected to City Council, said the City has lost twice on the trial and appellate court level, and estimates it will take a year to get the case heard by the Texas Supreme Court.  He says the City should drop the lawsuit and he predicted if that happens, the SAPFFA will be at the bargaining table 'within 72 hours.'

A ten year Evergreen Clause in the 2011 contract, which allows the provisions of the existing contract to remain in force for ten years after the three year contract expired allows the SAPFFA to avoid negotiations, because they continue to get pay and benefits under the 2011 agreement.

Nirenberg says among the benefits they receive, which the City is attempting to roll back, include 'zero premium' health insurance for themselves and their spouses, which has cost taxpayers $90 million.

The City has offered a compromise which includes pay raises, and allows the firefighters to continue to get their own personal health insurance without premiums, but requires premiums be paid on dependent coverage, and eliminates the legal defense fund.

“In total, the fire and police contracts cost taxpayers nearly $600 million a year, so the legal fees are a relatively small cost of doing business, especially if they result in an agreement such as the mediated settlement with the police union, which avoids nearly $90 million in healthcare costs," Nirenberg said.

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