Firefighter Contract Talks Hit Snag

It took more than four years, a lawsuit that went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, and a vote on three divisive charter amendments to get the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association to resume contract talks, and it looks like it only took a month for the talks to be on the verge of collapse, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

After a contentious day of negotiations, SAPFFA negotiator Ricky Poole said the negotiations have taken a 'major turn for the worst.'

The biggest issue from the start has been a city demand that the firefighters start paying a portion of their health care costs, with former City Manger Sheryl Sculley claiming that the result if the costs were not divided between the city and the firefighters would be a 'crowd out,' where the costs of law enforcement would leave no general fund money for other needs, from street repairs to libraries.

And Poole says it is health care that threatens to scuttle the negotiations again.

"The health care cost for Firefighters is the biggest issue for this city," the union said. "And the City keeps claiming

they don't have the true cost going back over 10 years. And the numbers they have provided are deceptive."

City Chief Negotiator Jeff Londa rejected that claim.

"We have responded to more than sixty requests for information, many with sub-parts," Londa said. "We have given them everything they have asked for. If they don't understand what they have asked for, that is really not our issue."

City Attorney Andrew Segovia agreed.

"This was not a desire to understand the information," he said. "The desire is to attack the city's credibility. That was the goal."

The firefighters are demanding that the city continue to fund health care benefits, but turn the operation of their health care program over to the union, claiming, among other things, that the city has downplayed reserach showing a higher incidence of cancer among firefighters due to their exposure to certain chemicals.

Some observers believe that the union is aiming for talks to be stalled, because soon after the first of April, the union has the right under Proposition 'C' of the charter amendments which the union took to the voters last fall and while was approved, to demand talks go to binding arbitration. Many think the union will get a better deal from an arbitrator than it stands to receive through direct talks with the City.

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