Prop B back-and-forth between mayor, Houston firefighters continues

HOUSTON – The back-and-forth between Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association over how to implement Proposition B continues.

Turner sent a letter to Patrick "Marty" Lancton, president of the firefighters' union, Wednesday proposing the phasing in of firefighter raises over a period of five years in order to avoid potential layoffs.

The mayor has said up to 500 firefighters could be laid off.

Voters approved Prop B last November.

The mayor wrote in the letter:

"I write to make clear the City's proposal on the resolution of Prop B implementation. I do not want to lay off anyone. To accomplish this, I ask the Union to agree to phase in the cost of implementing Prop B.

"I propose that Prop B be implemented over five years. The proposal takes into account the language of Prop B and factors in educational requirements for parity between Police and Fire. The chart that follows reflects the costs the City would incur and shows the incremental and cumulative costs. This matches the allocation of pay by seniority proposed by the Union.

"Spreading the costs will be in the best interest of all Houstonians."

Lancton responded with a letter Thursday, writing:

"We received your "proposal," which apparently is intended to leave the impression that you might finally end your political and legal war on Houston firefighters and respect the will of the 298,000 Prop B voters. At first glance, the proposal seems to only offer a portion of the pay and benefits over a five-year period. With that in mind, we ask:

1. Does this fully implement parity with HPD, including both base pay and incentives?
2. If you believe it does, please explain in writing so that we can advise our members.
3. If it does not, please explain why the proposal fails to provide parity.

"Firefighter layoffs are unnecessary. They were unnecessary during the HPD raises. They are unnecessary now. When you gut HFD from within with yet more budget and personnel cuts, you alone will be responsible for the consequences of diminished public safety services and for the loss of Houston-trained, taxpayer-funded firefighters. Please be prepared to explain why you recently hired hundreds of police and municipal employees yet you insist on terminating firefighter jobs.

"Finally, please also explain why the hundreds of millions paid to HPD for 37 percent raises since 2011, including at least $98 million this year, caused no fiscal crises or city employee layoffs.

"When you are serious about resolving our differences, please let us know."

The city of Houston's Twitter account posted a response Thursday that read: 

"Mayor Turner put forth a serious proposal to phase in Prop B over 5 years and avoid layoffs. The union did not respond to his offer. Instead they sent a letter disrespectful of Houstonians. The tone and culture must change as we move forward in the city's best interests."

Houston City Council voted Wednesday against a proposed garbage fee to pay for the pay raises.

A list circulated last week of six HFD station closures that are being considered by the city to implement the Prop B raises, according to the HPFFA.

However, Turner disputed that list, saying it is not accurate.

On Thursday, Turner released this statement:

"The City is in the process of implementing Prop B with checks scheduled to be issued in May in order to balance the budget by the end of June. The implementation of Prop B will force layoffs and a reduction of services.

"To avoid any layoffs, the City proposed to the fire union to phase in the cost of Prop B over five years. After saying, as late as last night, they would consider phasing-in the cost of Prop B over four years, today the union filed its motion for summary judgment demanding full payment immediately.

"The motion for summary judgment filed today by the firefighters' union makes it clear the union has no intention of, and had no intention of, negotiating anything. It is demanding payment regardless of the consequences on municipal employees, less senior firefighters and the City as a whole. That is unfortunate.

"Please bear in mind, Prop B came with no funding source and the City is honoring the will of the voters."