When it comes to the news, it's always important to gain as many perspectives as possible. In a recent Express News article, Rebecca Waldman (a previous member of the City's Benefits Task Force) certainly provided her unique perspective on collective bargaining agreements.
In the article, Rebecca stated:
“As we approach another budget preparation season for the city of San Antonio, we should all be concerned about the status of the collective bargaining agreements with the police and fire associations that expired Sept. 30, 2014.”
We agree with Ms. Waldman’s statement, as we are also concerned about the status quo that was initiated by the City of San Antonio when they started the Legacy Cost Task Force process that she references.
This brings to light a critical perspective many San Antonio residents may not have been be aware of...
Another Key Perspective
The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association never received Open Records info requested from the City back in Sept. 2014, which started the chain of events delaying their presence at the negotiations table. Instead, the City wanted to perform a 79,000 page "data dump" on the firefighters.
When questioned by the SA Firefighters Association's negotiation chairman about the status of the Open Records Request at a community meeting on the Northside, City Councilperson Joe Krier first said, “Sheryl says she has given you everything you asked for”. And when the questions on the Open Records request were explained to him, he stated it should only be 7 or 8 page report.
However, when he was told about the 79,000 page data dump that his employee at the time (Ms. Sculley) wanted to give to the firefighters...he was silent.
When the City chose to sue the firefighters and police associations in Nov. 2014, the SA Firefighters Association counter sued, alleging unfair bargaining practices by the City. The City asked a judge to throw out the counter suit which was quickly denied by the judge. The City went to court on both cases and lost, then they appealed.
The firefighters have repeatedly told the media that if the City drops the lawsuit they will be at the table within 30 days. It's likely that no one with the City has explained this to Ms. Waldman.
RESPONSE FROM JERRY CORTES - San Antonio Professional Firefighter and member of the San Antonio Benefits Task Force:
"I also served on the LEGACY COMMITTEE. What Ms. Waldman still does not get is that Firefighters/Police Officers are CHEAPER to insure than civilian employees. There are several common sense reasons for this:
- Firefighters/Police Officers are hired at younger ages between 19 and 33. Civilian employees can be hired at any age.
- Firefighters/Police Officers must pass PHYSICAL/PYSCHOLOGICAL testing before they are hired.
- Firefighters/Police officers retire much younger due to the physical demands of the job. Firefighting and Police work is a YOUNG person’s job, so they retire before starting to use a lot of Healthcare, typically between the ages of 52 to 57 years old.
- The average life expectancy of a Retired Firefighter is 5 to 7 YEARS after they retire.
The only way to change these facts is to manipulate the usage of healthcare. One way the City Manager did that is by DENYING Worker’s Compensation Benefits and forcing the Firefighters/Police Officers to use Healthcare Benefits to drive up the usage and cost. From 2012 to 2014, the 3-year period leading up to the Legacy Committee the City’s DENIALS of Worker’s Compensation for Firefighters went from 4.48% to 37.65% with denials for CANCER at 100%!!! CANCER IS THE NUMBER ONE KILLER OF FIREFIGHTERS, AND EVEN THOUGH THE CITY FAILS TO FOLLOW THE LAW, STATE LAW MANDATES THAT IT SHALL BE COVERED."
Be very careful when you throw around contract cost numbers such as “$80 million more than the last contract”. When quoting the cost of a multiyear labor contract, numbers can inflate very quickly since contract math is the only way you can make 1+1=3. If Ms. Waldman needs the technical explanation, we'll be happy to do so in a subsequent article.
All This to Say...
Firefighters are part of the local community and use the same city services as the citizens we serve. The last thing we want is for other services to be cut, and yet we also don’t want to get cancer due to exposures on the job and then have to defend ourselves from the City for what State law mandates.
It's important that San Antonio citizens not be fooled by Ms. Waldman’s canned explanation of events in her Express News article. However, it's also important that San Antonio citizens understand that her limited perspective may be the result of City Hall failing to fill her in on all sides of the story. Regardless, she can’t claim ignorance now.
There's always a lot more to the story...
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