Straight facts about uniformed City public safety employee benefits and negotiations with the police and fire labor unions
The City of San Antonio has tremendous respect and appreciation for our firefighters and police officers, and it is reflected in the fact that they are among the best compensated in the state. When you combine their base salaries with special pay, San Antonio's public safety salaries are second in the state of Texas only to the City of Austin. In the past eight years, the City has added 473 police officers and firefighters while cutting 1,200 civilian positions as part of our effort to focus on core services and manage our budget.
San Antonio police officers and firefighters also have a rich benefits package that includes no monthly healthcare premiums for themselves or their families; a taxpayer-funded legal fund that they can use to pay for divorces, child custody disputes, DUI defenses and other personal legal expenses; employer contributions to their pensions equal to 24.6 percent of their salaries; employer contributions to a post-retirement healthcare fund equal to 9.4 percent of their salaries; and unlimited tuition reimbursement, regardless of whether the education they receive applies to their jobs or even whether they graduate from the program.
When you combine above-average pay with rich benefits, the result is a City of San Antonio workforce where more than 400 of the 500 highest-compensated employees are uniformed public safety personnel.
This imbalance is crowding out other priority services that the City is expected to provide. If we are to build, maintain and operate the streets, sidewalks, parks, libraries, senior centers and other services that taxpayers want, we must get public safety expenses under control. Public safety currently consumes 66 percent of the General Fund budget; all other General Fund programs and services share the remaining 34 percent. According to the recent 2014 community-wide survey of over 1,000 City of San Antonio residents across all 10 City Council Districts, 70 percent support public safety personnel contributing to the cost of their healthcare benefits like other City employees and most other people.
A task force of business and community leaders – including union and public safety pension fund representatives – met for more than five months to study the issue. They made a series of recommendations that the City is now pursuing, beginning with reining in healthcare costs for firefighters and police officers, the fastest-growing portion of the public safety budget.
The City began meeting with the San Antonio Police Officers Association in January 2014 to negotiate a new labor contract (the fire labor union has yet refused to meet) with the expectation of having a final contract agreed upon by September when City Council adopted the FY 2015 City Budget. To date, there is no agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement with the police union. On September 30, both the police and fire contracts expired.
(It is important to understand that we are not talking about on-the-job healthcare coverage; firefighters and police officers have dangerous jobs, and the injuries suffered in the line of duty are covered 100 percent by the City. We are asking police officers and firefighters to share the costs of their everyday healthcare coverage, like the kind of policy you carry for yourself and your family.)
Unfortunately, neither union has agreed to a new contract in part because the current agreements have a 10-year evergreen clause – meaning the contracts continue for 10 years after they expire – which the City believes is unconstitutional and bad public policy.
San Antonio is not unique in dealing with rising costs of public safety. Cities across the country are grappling with the issues of escalating healthcare and public safety expenses. San Antonio taxpayers can no longer afford to offer our public safety personnel a benefits package that is out of line with what other Texas cities and San Antonio private employers provide their employees. The labor union agreements have been in place for 25 years and the current benefits are simply not affordable or sustainable for San Antonio taxpayers.