A Houston judge recently handed down a ruling declaring unconstitutional a referendum passed by voters in November that would raise pay for the members of the Houston Fire Department. The ruling comes weeks after hundreds of fire department employees were sent layoff notices from the city, notices which have since been rescinded.
In her ruling, Judge Tanya Garrison cited the Texas Local Government Code which requires that firefighters’ pay must be based on firefighter pay in the private sector, and not compared to wages paid to other city employees. The Houston Professional Firefighters Association had sought to even the pay disparity between the Houston Police Department and other local fire departments in Texas. The HPFFA immediately filed an appeal of the ruling.
Marty Lancton, President of the HPFA, is imploring Mayor Sylvester Turner to end the fight over pay disparity. “We urge the mayor to drop his legal attack on collective bargaining, a move that has alarmed all public employees across Texas.” In his State of the City address, Mayor Sylvester Turner said he is open to ending the battle. “I am prepared to sit down and talk,” the Mayor said. “We don’t have to litigate things all the time.” It remains unclear if and when negotiations will resume between the Mayor’s office and the HPFFA.
The battle over Proposition 8 and pay disparity in Houston
Last November in the city of Houston, the local fire department won a huge victory when voters approved Proposition B which increased pay for the city’s firefighters on par with first responders in other parts of Texas. Houston firefighters, when compared to those at the top five departments in other Texas cities, were earning about 30% less than their colleagues. In those other four cities (Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio), firefighters earn an average of $51,721 annually. Houston firefighters, on the other hand, earn an average base salary of just $42,121 per year.
Last month, the Houston Professional Firefighters Association claimed that hundreds of firefighters who were due back pay when the pay raises did not immediately go into effect did not see a raise in their paychecks. All firefighters in Houston are set to receive a 4% pay increase on July 1st, but many were due back pay retroactive to January which has left some firefighters scratching their heads. Houston Professional Fire Association President Marty Lancton, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, says Mayor Sylvester Turner has been mum on the issue of pay increases. “The mayor still refuses to disclose whether, when and how he will equalize pay and incentives between police and fire,” Lancton said.
Firefighters and EMS Fund was proud to support Houston’s firefighters by advocating in favor of the referendum. Since the referendum was passed, however, the fight over pay increases has not stopped. Late last year the pay increases for the city’s firefighters was placed are in doubt after Mayor Sylvester Turner expressed his intent to preempt the measure through litigation. Fast forward to the spring of 2019, and Houston’s firefighters are getting some bad news.
There will surely be more to come in the lengthening battle between the City of Houston and the Houston Fire Department. Stay tuned for more updates on the worsening fire department funding crisis in Houston.