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San Antonio firefighters union ready to come back to negotiating table, according to letter

San Antonio Express News logo San Antonio Express News 1/31/2019 By Josh Baugh and Dylan McGuinness, Staff writers
a man in a red shirt: Chris Steele, San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters union president, talks with reporters in February 2018 at the union hall. Thursday, the union sent a letter to city officials, saying it’s ready to start negotiating a new contract more than four years after the current one expired. © William Luther /San Antonio Express-News

Chris Steele, San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters union president, talks with reporters in February 2018 at the union hall. Thursday, the union sent a letter to city officials, saying it’s ready to start negotiating a new contract more than four years after the current one expired.

On the same day the San Antonio City Council was choosing a new city manager, the San Antonio firefighters union sent a letter to city officials saying it’s ready to get back to the bargaining table after more than four years of refusing to negotiate.

It’s no secret the union has been battling City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who is now set to retire March 1.

In a two-page letter sent Thursday addressed to City Attorney Andy Segovia and “City Manager Erik Walsh,” union attorney Rickey Poole writes that the union will be prepared to begin negotiations “at the Union Hall” on Feb. 6.

Walsh is the sole finalist to become San Antonio’s next city manager. He is expected to be formally appointed Thursday morning.

“I am honored to once again be sitting at the table with San Antonio’s firefighters, and I look forward to working with both you and your team in a serious effort to reach an agreement through collective bargaining that is just and equitable for all concerned parties,” Poole wrote.

The letter credits Councilman Greg Brockhouse, a staunch ally of the union who last week called on the union again to begin negotiations after the city dropped a lawsuit challenging a provision of firefighters’ contracts.

The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association has rejected at least nine requests from the city to negotiate since its collective-bargaining agreement expired Sept. 30, 2014.

The union led the charge on a set of charter amendments last November that were seen as a referendum on Sculley. Two of three amendments passed, and one set pay and tenure limits for future city managers. Sculley announced she would retire shortly after that election.

Most provisions of the expired agreement, including health care coverage, are still in place. That agreement called for them to remain in place for up to 10 years while a new contract is being negotiated, but wage increases don’t occur when a contract is in “evergreen” — that period between expiration and a new agreement.

That means San Antonio’s firefighters haven’t received a raise in more than four years. And because their eventual pensions are tied to their salaries, and the city’s contribution into the pension fund is tied to their salaries, the stalemate over contract negotiations is having a significant impact on firefighters’ futures.

Josh Baugh is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | jbaugh@express-news.net | Twitter: @jbaugh

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