San Antonio reaches a firefighter agreement can Houston. . . What's Your Point?

 After years of conflict, San Antonio and its firefighters reach a binding agreement. 

This week’s What's Your Point panel: Wayne Dolcefino, media consultant; Carmen Roe, Houston attorney Bill King, former mayoral candidate, businessman and columnist, Charles Blain, Urban Reform;  Tomaro Bell, super neighborhood leader,  and Antonio Diaz-, writer, educator and radio host talks about the possibility that Houston can follow suit.

SAN ANTONIO -  February 13, 2020    After a contentious six year battle the City of San Antonio has a new contract with the firefighter’s association. But it took an arbitration panel to order it.

It's a five-year deal giving firefighters 17 percent in pay increases, some of that in raises in salary, the rest in the form of one-time bonuses. And some firefighters will have to pay insurance premiums for the first time.

The arbitration panel did not give the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association close to all they wanted, but Association President Chris Steele called it a victory.

“We're happy with the award, with the deal that came here. It's a big win we've never seen a contract valued at this amount," Steele said.

The association was asking for a 14 percent raise in the first year. But arbitrators awarded them a 10 percent raise spread out over five years.

They will not receive back pay to make up for the five years their salaries stayed flat. However, they will receive a series of bonuses each year adding up to 7 percent.

Healthcare was another big sticking point. Up until now firefighters haven't had to pay any premiums. But now, if they want a smaller deductible, they'll have to pay premiums for their family members. And each year employee contributions will increase by 10 percent.

The rising cost of healthcare, the city said all along, would eat up the city's budget unless firefighters paid a bigger share.

“The goal of this entire process from the very start was to get a structurally balanced contract that was fair to all sides especially taxpayers and that was what we were able to achieve," said Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

The evergreen clause, which allowed firefighters to keep working under the terms of their prior contract, was shortened from ten years down to five years. And firefighters must pay healthcare increases even when the clause is in effect. The city hopes that will prevent long stalemates in the future.

"This compensation plan and healthcare package protects the firefighters and the citizens and keeps us as one of the highest compensated Fire Departments in the great state of Texas," said Christopher Steele, president of Firefighters Association. "Thank you to the citizens of San Antonio for helping make the 2018 Charter Amendment process a success."

According to the new terms from the City Manager's Office, the new agreement is a five-year agreement effective Feb. 13, 2020, but will be fair for both Firefighters and taxpayers.

"This award keeps our Firefighters at or near the top of total compensation when compared to other major Texas City Fire Departments. The award allows the City to appropriately balance the cost of public safety with other City Council and community priorities," said Erik J. Walsh, City Manager of San Antonio