HFD chief lays out plan for Prop B that doesn't result in layoffs

HOUSTON – Chief Samuel Pena told the city’s Public Safety Committee & Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday that he’s planning to lay off a total of 237 firefighters to implement Proposition B, which requires pay parity with police. 

But Pena also said the goal could be accomplished without any job losses by phasing in the firefighter raises. 

That would require negotiation, though, and according to the firefighters union, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the firefighters aren’t talking to each other. 

The plan Pena laid out Tuesday would eliminate 220 classified firefighter positions in addition to the 67 firefighter trainees laid off last week. 

“This is going to mean a layoff of 237 firefighters from our current headcount,” Pena said. 

He said the plan will require consolidation and reorganization. The department will go from four to three shifts, three ladder trucks would be taken out of service, and the department’s average response time would increase two seconds, but no stations would be closed. 

However, Pena also told the committee the department could fully implement Prop B without any layoffs if it was done over a period of years. 

“There is no need for layoffs. We can absorb these through attrition. About 140 to 170 people leave ... every year,” he said.

Both Turner and the firefighters union have proposed phasing in Prop B raises in plans ranging from three to five years, but according to Houston Professional Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton, city officials have never sat down to negotiate.

He said the union has tried. 

“We’ve been willing to sit down with the mayor. We’re willing to sit down with mediators or anyone the mayor would like to call but every time, the mayor has not shown up,” Lancton said.

The lack of cooperation is clearly beginning to take a toll on some of the council members on the committee. Councilman Mike Lastor openly expressed frustration Tuesday.

“We’re all trying to get both parties to the table and every time we ask the question we get gobbledygook and theater,” Lastor said.

Now time is running out. Layoff notices are already going out, and the City Council is due to vote on the proposed job cuts next week.