Letter to the Editor from San Antonio Professional Firefighters President Chris Steele
COMMENTARY - City Should Stop Negotiating Via Attack
Chris Steele, For the Express-News
July 6, 2015
Original Express News article can be found here.
As president of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, or SAPFFA, I expect to be challenged and put to the test. For 12 years, I have accepted that role because I want to protect every man and woman who puts on a uniform. My job is to protect their families, their finances and their future.
Unfortunately, that role has now included personal attacks on my character and my family. I believe these attacks crossed the line and warrant a professional, fact-based response.
The Express-News recently published two articles questioning my integrity in notifying the city of San Antonio about changes to my health care coverage.
First, the stories were simply wrong. Second, the stories discussed personal, family matters. Imagine if your employer placed your private, federally protected health care information in the the newspaper. Not once, but twice. This wasn't a routine city audit. This was an attack used to embarrass me and diminish my role in the upcoming contentious contract negotiations.
Fact: SAPFFA has not engaged in contract negotiations at this time. We haven’t started negotiating because we have been attempting to gather information to be prepared for a difficult negotiation process. We have watched our brothers and sisters with the San Antonio Police Officers Association struggle to find common ground with City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
How can we trust the process when personal attacks in the media are a tool the city manager uses to force compromise? Police officers and firefighters are engaged in a difficult conversation with the city about the cost of health care coverage, and two articles are published quoting Sculley and Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, alleging I potentially abused health care coverage? That’s not coincidence. That’s an attack.
Fact: I notified the city that my wife and I divorced and she would be covered by a different, separate insurance. The city’s own records verify it was aware in early 2013 that my ex-wife had her own insurance. Notification of a change in dependent status was made. It is worth noting that my ex-wife did not make a single claim on the city’s health insurance and, as a result, the city did not spend a single penny on her health care coverage.
Fact: We have documented proof the city has lost personal information regarding firefighter dependent health insurance. Items such as birth certificates and Social Security numbers have disappeared after submission to the city. We have committed to our members that we will fight to protect their private information. The city has little credibility to say it was not notified of my dependent status change when it has lost countless documents in the past.
Photo: Billy Calzada /San Antonio Express-News
Fact: I was never personally notified about questions regarding my dependent health care status prior to the publishing of the Express-News articles. Put yourself in my position. The first time your employer asks questions regarding your federally protected health care information is on the front page of the newspaper. That isn’t just unfair; it violates basic privacy protections to which every American is entitled.
I understand this is a challenging time for San Antonio and its first responders. A lack of trust divides police officers and firefighters from city leadership. That lack of trust is only deepened when personal attacks are used as a negotiating tool.
In the present climate, we cannot trust city leadership to negotiate in good faith and work with police and firefighters to protect our community. In my case, I cannot even trust them to ask me about my dependent status. They did so in the newspaper first, and that’s unprofessional and potentially illegal.
We need to remember we are all part of the same city family. We all work for the citizens of San Antonio. It remains my hope city leadership stops attacking and begins acting in a manner that promotes trust and teamwork.
Chris Steele is president of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.
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