Fire Union Says It Has Enough Signatures To Trigger Charter Amendment Election

Apr 11, 2018

Updated 4/12

The San Antonio Professional Firefighter’s Association said Wednesday it has collected enough signatures to trigger a city charter amendment election.

From the steps of City Hall, Fire Union President Chris Steele said the three petitions each received about 31,000 signatures. Union members delivered 15 boxes of signed petitions for their three proposed charter amendments.

“We have independently verified 22,000 signatures for each of the petitions, so we know they’re there,” he said. “We’re sending a message to the mayor today.”

The state minimum number of signatures needed to change a charter is 20,000. The petitions include amendments to limit the pay and tenure of the city manager, require binding arbitration over union contract disputes instead of a lawsuit, and lower the number of petition signatures required to challenge City Council decisions.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg says the proposals would have “devastating” effects to City Hall.

“It will cost us every time we have to hold an election because a special interest disagrees with a decision that’s been made by the duly elected City Council,” he said. “It would cost us when we can’t hire the best candidates for a municipal organization that has 12,000 employees.”

The fire union and the city has been at an impasse in health care and wage contract negotiations since 2017. The union has said the petitions are not retaliation for a lawsuit the city filed over a clause that allows its contract, which expired in 2014, to continue until 2024. Nirenberg says Steele has shown no interest in negotiations.

“Taxpayers deserve better than what Chris Steele has been doing, and we will not be bullied into mortgaging our future or our children’s future in San Antonio for the interests of Chris Steele and his cohort. It’s something I refuse to do.”

The city clerk’s office has received the petitions and is in the process of verifying that each signature is a registered voter living in San Antonio.

The proposed amendments could be on the November ballot.

Joey Palacios can be reached at joey@tpr.org or on Twitter @joeycules

Update 2:33 p.m.: Updates throughout, including adding an amendment requiring binding arbitration over union contract disputes instead of a lawsuit. 

CORRECTION: A mediator declared an impasse between the city and the fire union in 2017.