Houston firefighters sue City Hall amid contract negotiations

HOUSTON – Firefighters are fuming as failed contract negotiations with the city of Houston continue to go nowhere.

Wednesday afternoon, more than 200 frustrated Houston firefighters rallied with union leaders outside City Hall. The union announced it’s suing the city because of the unresolved contract negotiations.

Firefighters have worked without a contract since it expired in 2014.

For the past three years they’ve been operating through an “evergreen” agreement, but firefighters have not received any raises during that time.

“This fight in Houston has gone on for too long. Too much is at risk for us to stay quiet and too much is at risk for us and too much is for the citizens we serve,” said Marty Lancton, president of Houston Professional Fire Fighters’ Association IAFF Local 341.

The lawsuit claims the city of Houston elected to “play hardball” with firefighters and “not bargain in good faith.”

VIDEO: HFD pension protest outside of City Hall

Lancton said they want fair wages, benefits and workplace protections. He also said they want a third-party neutral person to help the city and firefighters with negotiations. The union said it believes the lawsuit will help them achieve this.

“The city did not negotiate in good faith whatsoever. Now we have asked the court to force the city into a sensible contract agreement that is fair to the citizens and fair to the men and women standing behind me,” said Lancton.

The lawsuit comes after City Council members unanimously approved an ordinance on Wednesday that would extend the “evergreen” agreement until the two parties can work out a contract.

“I’ve been a fan of firefighters for 28 years and I’m still a fan of firefighters,” explained Mayor Sylvester Turner in council chambers. “I still want to give them what they rightfully earned and worked for, but it’s going to take all parties to come to the table to make an agreement. This is not intended to be a collective bargaining agreement in this ordinance.”

PHOTOS: Firefighters rally outside Houston City Hall on June 28, 2017

He said the ordinance is intended to be only a stop-gap measure until they reach an agreement.

The mayor said voting for the ordinance Wednesday would ensure that firefighters' pay would stay the same as negotiations continue.

Turner said if they didn’t vote for the ordinance, automatically the contract would revert to state law and cut firefighters' pay up to $15,000.

Lancton said the ordinance is not idle because it impacts overtime and holiday pay and increases insurance costs.

“This is not at all intended to hurt firefighters, no one has the desire to hurt firefighters, but if people are going to stand up and demand 17 percent from the city when it doesn’t exist, what do you ask me to do?” explained Turner.

The city is offering raises of 9.5 percent for three years; the union wants 17 percent.

“If you’re coming to me and say give me a 17 percent, I’m going to tell you no because we [the city] don’t have it,” said Turner. “You can beat me up all day long, but until somebody puts a machine back there where I can print the money, we don’t have it.”

The mayor said the city offered the union a 30-day extension but the union rejected it. The union said that’s not true.

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