Houston fire cadets get $8K raise in 1st pay hike since 2001

The change for cadets went into effect this month as firefighters remain in an ongoing contract dispute with the city

Jasper Scherer
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — Mayor Sylvester Turner signed off on an $8,000 raise for Houston firefighter cadets earlier this month, breaking a nearly two-decade spell of stagnant wages for the trainees.

The pay bump, which took effect Feb. 8, lifts cadets’ annual compensation from $28,023 to $36,000. It has no impact on firefighters’ pay, which is subject to collective bargaining negotiations. Turner granted the cadets’ pay increase at the request of Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña, according to a Houston Fire Department spokesperson.

Houston fire cadets were granted an $8,000 pay raise at the request of Fire Chief Sam Peña, the city's first pay hike for cadets since 2001.
Houston fire cadets were granted an $8,000 pay raise at the request of Fire Chief Sam Peña, the city's first pay hike for cadets since 2001. (Photo/Houston Fire Department Facebook)

“Here in Houston, we are up against strong competition not only from surrounding fire departments who are moving from volunteer to paid firefighters, but from an overall strong labor market, a robust economy and more Houstonians with jobs today,” Peña said in a statement. “The approved cadet pay rate is a significant increase, but in a competitive market, it is an investment in attracting and recruiting good people.”

Though Houston cadets’ pay now falls nearly in line with that of other large Texas cities, Houston firefighters still earn far less, having received raises of just 3 percent since 2011. The starting salary in Houston is $40,170, which increases to $43,528 after an initial probationary period.

Dallas firefighters start at $61,367, while San Antonio firefighters begin with a $52,164 salary.

In 2018, voters approved a measure backed by the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association that granted firefighters the same pay as police of corresponding rank and seniority, effectively a major one-time pay hike. A judge ruled the measure unconstitutional last May, though the firefighters union has appealed.

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston firefighters union, questioned Friday whether the pay raise is “a sign that Sylvester Turner is ending his vindictive political and legal war on Houston firefighter families.”

“Against a backdrop of hundreds of recent HFD resignations and retirements, the cadet pay raise is long overdue and politically necessary for the mayor,” Lancton said in a statement. “Other cities are raiding our taxpayer-funded, HFD-trained firefighters. The HFD cadet situation has become a costly, national embarrassment for the City of Houston in the fire service.”

The union has been critical of Turner for refusing to settle the long-running contract dispute through arbitration, a process that last week broke the city of San Antonio’s six-year contract stalemate with its firefighters union.

The new deal granted San Antonio firefighters less generous pay raises than they had sought and required them to contribute to their health care plans for the first time, instead of having taxpayers continue to fund the full cost of premiums.

As in Houston, San Antonio’s contract dispute generated intense acrimony between firefighters and City Hall, factoring heavily into the recent mayoral contest and a trio of ballot referendums that some viewed as a catalyst for longtime city manager Sheryl Sculley’s retirement.

San Antonio officials expressed relief and a desire to move beyond the rancor after arbitrators finalized the collective bargaining agreement, the first such deal to go through arbitration in a major Texas city.

“It gives us an opportunity to reset and restore the relationships that have been frayed and the cloud that’s hung over the city for a long time,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “Today, with this new deal, we can move forward together because San Antonio functions best when its first responders and City Hall leadership are working on the same team.”

Houston firefighters union officials have pointed to the San Antonio resolution as proof that Turner’s concerns about the process are unfounded. Turner has said arbitration would put the city’s credit rating at risk, citing the downgrade San Antonio received after voters passed a referendum allowing firefighters to force arbitration in contract negotiations. The mayor declined comment Friday.

Lancton said the union remains “open to resolving our differences with the city, but the mayor has rejected every possible path, including binding arbitration, to resolving them.”


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