On May 1, San Antonio voters will decide whether to repeal local authority for collective bargaining with the San Antonio Police Officers Association. Currently, under Chapter 174 of state law, cities are allowed to negotiate with police and firefighter unions through collective bargaining to determine compensation, hours, and other conditions of employment. Chapter 174 also contains a provision that prohibits strikes and lockouts and authorizes penalties for such activity. Proposition B would repeal city law adopting those provisions as well.
The measure was placed on the ballot through an initiative sponsored by Fix SAPD. In San Antonio, citizens can place a ballot measure on the ballot through an indirect initiative petition signed by at least 10% of the city’s qualified voters as of the last regular election. If enough signatures are submitted, the initiative is then voted on by the city council. The city council can enact the measure or put it on the ballot. The required number of signatures for 2021 was 20,282.
On January 8, supporters submitted over 28,000 signatures to the city clerk. On February 4, City Clerk Tina Flores announced that the campaign had submitted over 20,282 valid signatures and that the measure had qualified for the May ballot. On February 11, the San Antonio City Council voted to certify the initiative for the ballot.
James Dykman, a board member of Fix SAPD, said, “This is the first step to stronger police accountability in our community. The police association has had too much leverage in negotiations with the city for too long. Under a new system of Meet and Confer, police oversight could sit outside the purview of contract negotiations between the City and the local police association. We could have strong pay and benefits for officers, while protecting citizens and holding bad officers accountable.”
Concerning the certification of the measure for the ballot, the San Antonio Police Officers Association said in a press release, “[San Antonio Police Officers Association] plans on working hard between now and election day to inform voters about how important collective bargaining (Chapter 174) is to recruiting top-notch police officers who will keep our neighborhoods safe and to ensuring the Police Chief and the City continue to have flexibility in hiring, promotions, discipline, and boosting diversity within the Department.”
The last contract between the San Antonio City Council and the San Antonio Police Officers Association was agreed to on September 1, 2016. The council voted 9-2. Contract negotiations to replace the 2016 contract were set to begin on February 12, 2021. If the union and the city reach an agreement before the election, the repeal of Chapter 174 would take effect after the new contract expires.
An alternative to collective bargaining is meet and confer, where there is no requirement that a city and police union reach an agreement regarding wages, benefits, and other working conditions. San Antonio currently has a meet and confer agreement with the San Antonio Park Police Officers Association.
There are 13 top 100 cities by population in Texas. Of those 13 cities, four (Corpus Christi, El Paso, Laredo, and San Antonio) use collective bargaining in police negotiations, four (Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston) use meet and confer, and five (Lubbock, Garland, Arlington, Irving, and Plano) do not have contracts with police unions.
In 2020, Ballotpedia identified 20 police-related measures in 10 cities and four counties within seven states that appeared on local ballots. All 20 were approved. The measures concerned police oversight; the powers and structure of oversight commissions; police practices; law enforcement department structure and administration; reductions in or restrictions on law enforcement budgets; law enforcement training requirements; and body and dashboard camera footage.
On May 1, voters in Austin will also decide a measure, Proposition C, that would establish the position of the Director of Police Oversight in the city charter with the “responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability as it relates to policing.” Details about the selection of the director and staff would be determined by the city council if the measure is approved.
On May 1, San Antonio voters will also decide Proposition A, a charter amendment to permit the city to issue bonds for public improvements, including housing programs for households with incomes below a certain threshold.
The last day to register to vote in the election is April 1. Early in-person voting will begin on April 19 and run through April 27. On election day, the polls will be open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.