Friday, January 09, 2015

Stand up to union bullying over budget busting SA police contract

It's the age-old question: Best to appease bullies or stand up to them?

In San Antonio, the local police union has launched attack ads against the city manager over stalled contract negotiations: the city can't keep up with pay and benefits without raising taxes and/or cutting other, essential city services and, predictably, the union won't budge an inch. Mayoral candidate and current state Rep. Mike Villareal wrote the other day that, "The San Antonio Police Officers Association paid for ads that stirred public anger over City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s compensation package — a red herring. Questioning the city manager’s salary is legitimate; pretending that it’s relevant to negotiating a new contract for first responders is not."

Remarkably, "Currently, the city estimates 67 percent of the city’s general fund goes to support public safety," wrote Villareal, which is "crowding out all other services, such as street repair, parks and libraries."

Former mayor Henry Cisneros recently ascended to head the local Chamber of Commerce. In response to the attack ads, that group began running (by comparison, mild) response ads defending the city manager and calling for fiscal restraint on police pay and benefits. Reported the Express-News (Jan. 5):
Cisneros also said the chamber is sponsoring 30- and 60-second radio advertisements and publishing an ad in the Thursday edition of the San Antonio Express-News that calls on both sides to rekindle talks. The radio ads say there is “deep respect” here for public safety personnel and that San Antonio has one of the best city managers in the country. Though the ads don’t mention her by name, they say City Manager Sheryl Sculley has put the city on a prudent fiscal course.

Through the ads, the chamber says public safety personnel need to share in the rising costs of health care, that the city needs to maintain the cost of public safety at “fiscally responsible levels” and that extraneous benefits for sworn personnel — from tuition reimbursements to a legal fund — that are outside “the norm” need to be curtailed.
Officers currently are working without a contract and the city has sued to invalidate an "evergreen" clause that keeps the old terms in place for ten years if they can't come to a new agreement. The union says they won't rejoin negotiations unless the city drops the suit.

While some council members have suggested cratering on the suit (politicians fear campaign ads the way two year olds fear monsters under the bed), quite frankly I'd like to see the lawsuit go forward just to find out an answer to the question. If a politically powerful police union convinces a city council to approve an irresponsible contract that causes the city's budget to balloon (Austin is in the same boat), that sort of evergreen clause means future councils can't change it even when the contract expires. And ten years is far longer than city council terms so, in essence, it prevents city councils from governing if they cannot influence 2/3 of the city budget for their entire terms! Even if the suit were dropped, the city should insist there's no such provision in any future contract, ever.

OTOH, while it's fine to call for a return to the negotiating table, if the city wins the lawsuit there's also just the option of setting salaries and benefits without one, as happens routinely in the overwhelming majority of Texas police departments.

In recent years there's been a major effort to confront bullying in schools. But bullies don't stop when you just hand over your lunch money, they come back the next day for more. Most of us learn those lessons on the playground and the city council in SA would do well to remember them today.


Anonymous said...

Interesting though expected spin given here. The union did not bully the city during the last contract and they are well within their rights to expect the city to live up to the contract it approved. Each side signed off and whatever the percentage of the total budget covers public safety has nothing to do with the current negotiations.

Highly trained officers do not come cheap and most people understand that a primary responsibility of a city is fire and police protection. If they city needs to cut frills to pay for the increasing costs of the basics, so be it. SAPD is paid significantly less than Austin PD and counterparts across the country, lowering their compensation via charging more for established benefits or trying to cut direct pay is certainly grounds for employee representatives to fight for fair treatment.

Anonymous said...

@10:14 'Highly trained officers' L.O.L.

Anonymous said...

Most police departments I've seen with low pay have very unprofessional officers. SAPD is a very professional department with many challenges. Grits you might want to go pick on those Barney Fife Departments when it comes to poor policing. Poor policing is usually the result of poor funding. If we want to save money on police, the city could hire the Geo Group to run their police department. Maybe they could start officers off at $8 an hour. They could cut training and get rid of all that over priced equipment police have. Maybe replace expensive patrol cruisers with golf carts. Guns, those things kill people. Give the new private police flash lights. 911 systems are too expensive, the can replace it with a 1-900 number and generate additional revenue. Maybe Securus can have the contract on the 1-900 dispatch system. When crime gets really bad there, the Geo Group can blame it on the drug cartels in Mexico, that way they can send a bunch of state national guard and DPS surge into the city. Union contracts aren't needed, just contract with private companies for your policing services.

Anonymous said...

Above we see the typical reaction of a bureaucrat. more money to support and expand the bureaucracy

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:14 wrote: "they are well within their rights to expect the city to live up to the contract it approved"

Of course, they just seem to forget that others have rights, too, like the city's right to sue, for example, or taxpayers' right to reject ever-higher taxes to pay for benefits most of them could never imagine. None of which changes the unsustainable economics of the situation.

11:57, do you feel better for venting? Sorry, amigo, but demagoguery won't win you this argument.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:14:00 AM,
You are correct, the city made a deal and the union should not be considered bullies for expecting the city to abide by its word. The idea that others have rights to violate a contract is not unique though you typically hear it from the right of center jerks, not the left.

Anon 11:30:00 AM,
I suppose it is a matter of comparison. San Antonio have much better training than many of the smaller departments around them and they seem to act better as a result. They aren't perfect and all the training in the world will not make them such but they are worth every penny they make.

Grits, depending on the contract language, the citizens and city probably DO NOT have the right to sue to negate their valid contract if the sole point of contention is that some people don't want to raise taxes or later elected officials don't like the deal they were saddled with. By your reasoning, the city could blow off paying back bonds or vendors because they feel the deal is not favorable enough, citizens lacking standing in this case as well. Maybe the city should consider cutting frills, raising fees or taxes, or trimming their public safety department numbers as people retire.

Anonymous said...

"the citizens and city probably DO NOT have the right to sue to negate their valid contract"

Actually, the citizens do have a right to sue to challenge the validity of the contract. Just because you say it is a valid contract does not make it so. The provision at issue may very well not stand up to a challenge in court. THere are all sorts of defenses to the enforcement of contracts and/or provisions of contracts. The citizens, therefore, have an absolute right to ask a court to determine the validity of this provision.

Isn't in funny how cops do not think citizens have any rights but, when someone messes with their pay or benefits they start bellyaching about their rights.

Anonymous said...

Anon 04:11:00 PM,
I think it's fair to remind you the sentence started off with: "depending on the contract language" and was further qualified with "probably". Grits made the statement that the cops were being bullies by wanting the city to uphold its end of the contract and I don't think that is fair. I don't live in San Antonio and I'm not a cop but contract law is important if dependable business transactions are going to take place.

Just as some of you would force all public employees to revert to an at will status over civil service, some think they have no legal rights whatsoever. The former is bad public policy and the latter is just crazy talk. See what type of employee you get with that kind of reasoning.

Anonymous said...

Unions are socialistic entities and, as happens in socialistic systems, they eventually create situations which become economically unsustainable. We've seen it time and time again. Many companies have been forced out of business because they could no longer afford the pay and benefits unions demanded. We've even seen city's bankrupted by the demands of public employee unions.

The sense of entitlement that is so pervasive in our culture astounds me. We see it in almost any group that gets any type of benefit from the government, and public employee unions are no different.

The problem with these socialistic systems, and with socialism itself, is that it subverts the laws of supply and demand. Its really that simple. The officers on here moaning about a well-trained police force, etc., should realize that, its up to the taxpayers of the City to decide what type of law enforcement they want. If they are happy with what they've got at the current salary and benefit levels, they are free to maintain the status quo. If they believe they can be happy with what they will have by reducing pay and benefits, that is their choice. If they end up with something less than what they desire, they will be willing to spend more money to improve it. The union cannot dictate to the taxpayers what they should have. The attitude that it can shows a complete disdain for the concept of government by and for the people. Instead, they seek government by coercion and extortion (aka bullying).

And, as far as the officers, its this simple - if you don't like the pay and benefits you are getting, like any other job, you are free to go elsewhere. Someone said Austin PD pays better - I suspect they are always hiring so go apply. No one is forcing you to work in San Antonio. If you are not happy with the pay and benefits in law enforcement, go find another career.

But, these police officers have come to believe that they are entitled to get whatever they demand. If any employee believes he is worth more, he has to prove that to his employer. Thus, if the officers of San Antonio believe they are worth more, they need to convince the taxpayers of San Antonio who will in turn inform their elected officials. If you are unable to make your case, you either accept what you are offered, or go somewhere else. Its that simple.

rodsmith said...

7:04 I think your wrong. Some contract conditions are illegal when written. This one is a perfect example and anyone one on the gov't side who approved it should be canned and sued.

A basic reading of that condition seems to say

"when this contract is up for renewal if we can't come to an agreement then this contract and all it applies to will continue for the next TEN YEARS. Sorry but that's retarded. Any real lawyer would have said so. I know pretty much any judge will.

Anonymous said...

And if you don't like calling the overpaid police dial another number besides 911 during an emergency.

Anonymous said...

I see both sides of this one but I was trained in labor relations when getting my MBA. Never assume a provision is illegal on its face, Home Rule provisions and state law support such evergreen provisions to a point, even if many of us think ten years is a huge stretch.

The police union, unlike the fire union, has met with the city since last January. It then hired an expert who delayed some meetings while he researched the situation in great depth. He claims the city demanded the clause be removed so they would be in a better bargaining position, not because the clause which has been a part of their contracts for nearly 30 years is illegal.

What I find most striking is that the same former city attorney that signed off on the contract in 2009 is now being hired by the city as private counsel to claim it is an illegal provision, raising the issue that he knowingly approved a contract when it benefited the city and now does a 180 for a healthy sum. I think the term "legal mercenary" applies in such cases. For the record, city manager Sheryl Sculley also signed off on the contract terms years ago, her current compensation of nearly a half million a year perhaps the first place to cut given the circumstances.

Regardless, even though negotiations are secret, it is clear that the city is trying to cut benefits substantially and not increase pay. Otherwise, the union would simply ask for more money in direct pay to balance out the increased costs. If the city's assertion that this was a perpetual contract was truthful, I believe it would be illegal but that is not that case, ten years not perpetual.

Phantom Bureaucrat said...

If the city wanted to negotiate in earnest, it would have used the arbitration clause with the police, reserving the lawsuits for the firemen's union that has steadfastly refused to negotiate at all. It's tough to expect a group to negotiate with you when you are suing them in district court to strengthen your hand.

Anonymous said...


I might but the state and the police insist on a monopoly on social control (i.e. violence).

Anonymous said...

so what IS the pay and benefit package for a 5 year vet?

A 20 year vet - including any DROP, overtime added to pension calculations, health plans, etc.?

Extra jobs allowed for more OT pay?

Anonymous said...

Did the city have it's negotiators at the table?
Were they idiots or were the negotiating teams equal?
Did the City Council (or whatever establishment of elected representatives SA has ) sign off on the contract?
If the answers are yes, equal, and yes the city must abide by THEIR agreement.
If the citizens have any grievance it's with their elected officials and the elections in November were the time to vent that grievance.
If they want to waste money suing the council, let them.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1/10/2015 12:00:00 AM, they are paid similarly to Dallas, substantially less than Austin, and much more than Houston. The issue here is not how much they are paid but if the city can break the contract it agreed to. The city's argument is that following the contract will mean raising taxes or cutting other services, basing the claim on the false notion of a perpetual evergreen clause when the contract only provides a ten year hold. The district court judge should remand both parties to arbitration as provided in the contract before dragging the courts into it.

Anonymous said...

"The former is bad public policy and the latter is just crazy talk"

"Bad public policy" is giving any group of people such a sense of entitlement that they think they can dictate to the citizens what they must be paid.

Anonymous said...

Anon 09:57:00 AM,
I don't get that impression of them at all. I get the impression that some are trying to sell a notion about unconstitutionality tied to a perpetual clause that does not exist in this case. The city wants to compensate less and the union wants to prevent that by invoking a contract clause. The union considers the city suing in court to gain an upper hand to be a bad faith negotiation tactic and I can't say I find fault with that logic, nor does about half of city council.

Anonymous said...

In a nut shell -

Mr. Mackey said it best.

Students, gangs are bad, umkay.
Don't join a gang, cuz gangs are bad, umkay.

Depending on the color of ones skin and Race/Ethnicity box chosen, dictates which gang police & fire rookies eventually join. When you are jumped into a gang while at the Academy and officially at Graduation and find yourself paying dues and voting the way you are told to vote by your mentor/sponsor, you are simply nothing more than a well dressed gang member with bad-ass benefits in addition to a license to kill.

When told that - we didn't get what we wanted and in order to send a message we need to de-police (see NYPD) the citizens get the bad end of the deal. Those that have called 911 can attest to the fact that they either don't show up at all or when they do show up, they treat the caller like a suspect they just pulled over. Due to depolicing & plain old weird treatment of callers, an entire street stopped calling 911 over a decade ago. We police it ourselves and call the sheriff department as needed.

If we witness a crime while away from our street, we ignore it, because we have better things to do than spending time with a cop that's going to consider 'you' the caller as the problem and, that's bad. No reports filed equates to less crime. And, no, we (35 houses) steer clear of forming (another) neighborhood watch that is under control of the police department.

Welcoming new people to the city and street get lessons regarding avoiding the civic duty to call 911 and neighbors phone numbers along with homemade cookies.

Anonymous said...

I think with the new open carry gun laws we will be expected to police ourselves...

I also hear Ecuador has not been consumed by the developers yet so if your close to retirement please join me there

Mi casa, su casa.!

Anonymous said...

Grits, Your just missing several facts here! These guys have passed up pay raises for years to keep the health care. The Public Safety budget has not increased with the population. Yes, they are attacking Sculley and rightly so! She is playing chicken little not giving up any of her perks and basically working part-time. I'm going to get you more facts so you can have better info!

Anonymous said...

"Grits, Your just missing several facts here! These guys have passed up pay raises for years to keep the health care. The Public Safety budget has not increased with the population"

First, everyone in the private sector is having to pay more for healthcare. Public sector employees have been spared the brunt of the increasing costs of insurance but, ultimately, will have to bear some of those costs. Many of those who pay the taxes that pay the salaries of government employees can no longer afford health insurance. Yet, you all expect to be spared the increases that everyone else is forced to pay. The costs of health insurance has increased for everyone. Unfortunately, most workers don't have the power to bully their employer into covering those costs.

Second, so what if the public safey budget has not increased with the population. Could it be that the budget was bloated to start with? I think you are the one who needs to provide more facts to support your position.

Anonymous said...

Anon 04:46:00 PM,
SAPD gave up pay increases to keep the benefits affordable. In those years, the economy has rebounded in significant fashion, city's and counties making millions more thanks to rising tax appraisals, and private sector employees in many fields averaging healthy raises. San Antonio not only wants to raise the costs of employee benefits but keep wages well below places like Austin, in effect have their cake and eat it too.

Given Texas is a right to work state where public safety employees have few rights and certainly less power than some believe their unions to have, it's worth the community to decide if they want to lower standards as the best candidates apply elsewhere or simply employee fewer officers either by increasing response times or eliminating specific duties.