Police, firefighters enter new year without new contracts

HARLINGEN — The city’s police and firefighter unions will enter the new fiscal year without renewed contracts.

The contracts expired yesterday, but they include an “evergreen” clause that will allow police officers and firefighters to continue to work for as long as a year, City Manager Dan Serna said.

Serna said the local police and firefighter unions have not accepted the city’s offers after more than three months of collective bargaining talks.

“We’re still working on that,” Serna said, adding a confidentiality agreement barred him from disclosing details.

Serna said he didn’t know how close the parties were to reaching an agreement.

“I haven’t gotten an indication on either side,” Serna said. “We hope to have some resolution soon.”

Serna said it’s not unusual for the city to negotiate union contracts into a new fiscal year.

The contracts come with a one-year evergreen clause, Serna said.

“Sometimes it goes beyond the fiscal year,” he said. “If we’re not able to come to an agreement, it goes into evergreen. What will happen is everything will stay as is.”

The unions seek contract extensions that might include pay raises, officials have said.

Since early June, city officials and local union representatives have held collective bargaining talks behind closed doors.

Yesterday, attorney John Sierega, who represents the police union, could not be reached for comment.

As collective bargaining talks opened in June, Sierega, an attorney with the Texas Municipal Police Association, said a request for raises could depend on other cities’ police salaries and cost-of-living increases.

Two years ago, collective bargaining talks led to a two-year contract that came with 2.5 percent raises in 2014-2015 and 3.5 percent raises in 2015-2016.

Police officers’ full-time salary package climbed about $700,000 from 2013-2014 to 2015-2016.

In 2015-2016, the full-time salary package stood at $6.5 million, up from $5.8 million in 2013-2014.

Yesterday, Sal Carmona, president of the police officers’ union, and Julio Zetina, president of the firefighters’ union, could not be reached for comment.

Carmona had said he would issue a statement Friday.

As part of the city’s new $41 million general fund budget, other city employees will get raises.

City commissioners gave 2-percent raises to the city’s 325 non-civil service employees as part of a $184,000 package.