Houston officials propose pay raise to firefighters, but not full parity
Houston officials have offered to raise firefighters’ base salaries, but not sufficiently to establish pay parity with police officers as approved by voters
By Jasper Scherer
HOUSTON — Houston officials have offered to raise firefighters’ base salaries, but not sufficiently to establish pay parity with police officers as approved by voters, city and firefighter union officials said Wednesday.
“In my mind, the proposal makes no effort to implement Prop B,” union attorney Troy Blakeney said, referring to the ballot item reflecting a city charter amendment approved in a Nov. 6 referendum. “It makes an effort to pay firefighters additional salaries that do not include all the components of Prop B.”
The proposal nonetheless marks the first evident progress made since Mayor Sylvester Turner met last month with Blakeney and Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton to discuss Proposition B, which compels the city to pay firefighters the same as police of equal rank and seniority.
City Attorney Ron Lewis confirmed the city had made an offer, but neither he nor Blakeney disclosed the amount.
Still, it was clear Wednesday that Turner and Lancton remain far from an agreement to phase in the raises over time. Both say they support that idea, with Turner arguing the city cannot afford to instantly implement Proposition B.
Lancton told reporters Wednesday that the city’s legal efforts to invalidate the proposition, based on the argument that it is unconstitutional, are hampering negotiations.
“He appears to be a victim of his own ego,” Lancton said of the mayor. “His relentless political and legal war on Houston firefighters and their families must end.”
Turner has said the firefighters’ decision Jan. 15 to seek a court order compelling the city to implement the proposition has similarly soured negotiations. Lancton has said the city should already be paying firefighters because the proposition became law nearly three months ago, which is why the union sought the court order.
On Wednesday, Lancton again called on council members to more forcefully urge Turner to start granting pay raises.
"The question now is, will the City Council stand up for what the voters of Houston have approved?” Lancton said. “And will the City Council implement what is the law, which is Proposition B - or will they step back and allow the mayor's vindictiveness and his positions to be theirs?"
Turner has said for weeks his administration is defining parity across the fire and police departments, and will issue back pay to firefighters. However, Blakeney said Wednesday the firefighters likely would not see a penny of Proposition B-mandated raises if the city succeeds in invalidating the amendment in court before it starts doling out bigger paychecks.
Council members, meanwhile, expressed frustration at Wednesday’s weekly meeting that they were not given more immediate notice their names would appear in a recent motion by the city seeking to sever the fire union’s Jan. 15 filing from the ongoing litigation.
Lewis notified council members in a Jan. 29 email that he intended to defend them, because the union had sued them in their official capacities. Still, several members said they would have preferred more communication beyond the weeks-old notice.
Councilmen Michael Kubosh on Tuesday requested his own legal counsel because he does not agree with the city’s position that Proposition B is unconstitutional, while Councilman Dwight Boykins requested his name be removed from the motion for the same reason.
Blakeney said Wednesday the union sued the council members because they were not complying with a law they had adopted Nov. 28, when they approved the charter amendment.
“It makes no sense to say, ‘We want to wait while it goes through the courts to see if we're going to have to comply,’” Blakeney said. “It is the law. The court found it constitutional. They need to comply with it.”
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