City, firefighters meet for second mediation session for Prop B

HOUSTON – With hundreds of layoffs on the line, Houston city officials and firefighter union reps entered day two of court-ordered mediation Tuesday.

Mediator and Houston attorney David Matthiesen will again try to help both sides agree on a plan to implement the voter-approved Proposition B.

Fire union officials and members support a plan to do so over three-and-a-half years, without laying off firefighters or others.

But Mayor Sylvester Turner has said anything short of a five-year implementation plan will trigger hundreds of layoffs, starting Wednesday.

City council is scheduled to vote Wednesday whether or not to give Turner authority to lay off 220 firefighters, “and that is needed to balance the budget,” Sylvester said Tuesday at a council meeting before mediation started.

“If the vote is no,” Turner explained, meaning if council votes to not give him the authority to lay off firefighters, “hundreds of municipal [city] workers” will be laid off instead.

“The budget is now ready to go to the printer,” Turner added, insisting that he did not want to lay off anyone, “but we have to pay for Prop B, and we have to balance the budget.”

The budget must be balanced by June 1, in a little more than 60 days. Layoff notices must be delivered 60 days in advance.

Layoff notices may be rescinded before the 60 days are up if city officials and fire union reps reach an agreement that makes them unnecessary.

“Let’s hope that something happens” in mediation, Turner said. He added that he hopes to avoid layoffs, but "we’ll see what happens.”

Turner, fire Chief Sam Peña, Fire Union President Marty Lancton, Police Union President Joe Gamaldi, the city attorney and others were seen walking into Matthieson’s Montrose Law Office on Tuesday.

If no agreement is reached Tuesday, mediation will begin again next Monday afternoon, per the court order.

Mediation will continue until both sides come to an agreement or, at Matthiesen‘s discretion, they have arrived at an insurmountable impasse.

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