Firefighters Union Proposes Contract Talks With the City

It looks like there might be some end in sight to the very public and very nasty nearly five year long battle between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

At a news conference at union headquarters, lead SAPFFA negotiator Ricky Poole proposed that the union and the city meet next week to begin talks on a new contract.

But the two sides are not ready to kiss and make up. Union President Christ Steele said 'it is no secret that City Hall has declared war agaisnt public safety,' and a representative of the city who came to the union hall to hear what union leaders had to say was asked to leave before the news conference started.

The contract between the union and the city ended in 2014, and the firefighters have been working under the terms of the old contract due to what is called an 'evergreen clause.' Since it is illegal for firefighters to strike in Texas, 'evergreen clauses are common in public safety contracts, because they allow the terms of emplyment to remain in place while negotiations are underway.

But the firefighters balked at continuing negotiations because City Manager Sheryl Sculey said a major benefit that firefighters enjoy, zero premium health insurance coverage for themselves and their families, would have to be dropped, saying the rising costs of health care is making the benefit too expensive and warning it would 'crowd out' other general fund priorities, like street repair.

The city responded by suing the union, claiming that the Evergreen Clause, which the city signed and which is not unusual for public safety contracts, is illegal. That lawsuit was thrown out at every level, and last year the City dropped the lawsuit.

Then the firefighters union retaliated by circulating three charter amendments, one to cut the salary of future city managers, one to place virtually every action taken by City Council up for a potential public vote, and one to mandate that firefighter contract debates be brought before an independent arbitrator instead of being taken to court.

The first and third proposals succeeded.

It iis unclear whether, if new talks do begin next week, whether the independent abritrator clause will be invoked.

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