San Antonio and Its Fire Union Reach a Labor Contract Deal — and Both Sides Claim Victory


Fire union chief Chris Steele addresses the press at a news conference Thursday. - SANFORD NOWLIN
  • Sanford Nowlin
  • Fire union chief Chris Steele addresses the press at a news conference Thursday.
After six years of brawling and stonewalling, the City of San Antonio and its fire union have reached a new labor contract.

Both sides are claiming victory over the five-year agreement, reached through meetings overseen by a third-party arbitration panel.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the pact represents a fresh start and an opportunity for the city to rebuild its relationship with the firefighters.

"This city functions best when City Hall and first responders work together as a team," he said in a statement to the Current. "We intend to take this opportunity for a fresh start and move forward."

However, union President Chris Steele said the deal wouldn't have been possible if voters hadn't approved a pair of measures the union placed on the ballot last year — one which gave firefighters the ability to unilaterally push contract talks into arbitration.

"We are here today with an agreement in hand because the citizens, the citizens of San Antonio, voted for binding arbitration and against the city manager," Steele said at a press conference at the union's headquarters.

The union's ballot-box victory prompted the departure of Sheryl Sculley, the former city manager who took a hardline on negotiations with the firefighters and entered a lengthy and unsuccessful court battle with the union.

Under the new deal, firefighters will get a total 17% pay increase over the agreement's five year term. Employee contributions to the healthcare plan will increase by 10% annually during both the terms of the contract and a five-year maximum evergreen period.

The pact does not provide retroactive compensation for firefighters for the more than five years they were without a contract.

In a statement, City Manager Erik Walsh said he appreciated good faith effort of the union. However, he said he hopes "this marks the first and only time that the city and its public safety unions use binding arbitration to reach a collective bargaining agreement."

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