Layoff notices sent to 220 Houston firefighters

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter, Aaron Barker - Senior Digital Editor
KPRC

Firefighters walk out of a Houston apartment complex in this undated image.

HOUSTON - The letters notifying 220 Houston firefighters that they are being laid off because of the cost of Proposition B have been sent, according to officials.

A spokeswoman for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that all of the firefighters who are being let go have received notification that their final day of employment will be June 30.

The letter, which points to a “sizeable budget shortfall” because of the implementation of the voter-approved ordinance that requires the city’s firefighters be paid the same as their Police Department counterparts, is signed by Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena.

DOCUMENT: Read layoff letter

“I want to assure you that the elimination of your position was a business decision and does not reflect your work performance or the value we place on your service to the city,” Pena wrote.

Both Turner and Pena have said that layoffs are necessary to rollout Proposition B in the 3 1/2-year time frame that is being demanded by the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. The firefighters’ union and some council members disagree.

City and union leaders are expected to continue court-ordered mediation over the details of implementing the ordinance. 

HFD Chief Sam Pena issued the following statement:

"The City of Houston has experienced a sizable budget shortfall due to the implementation of Proposition B. Without an agreement to phase-in the cost of $80 to $100 million per year, the city has stated there is no option to balance the budget without a reduction in fire department personnel.

"Due to the notification requirement, beginning today firefighters who would be affected by the reduction in force will receive a 60-day layoff notice to be effective June 30, 2019.

"This is the most difficult thing I have had to do in my career. No Fire Chief ever wants to be faced with the possibility of firefighter layoffs. I am very concerned with the impact on our employees and my heart aches for the firefighters receiving notices and their families during these uncertain times. I hope that we can reach an agreement with the Fire Union to phase-in the full implementation of Proposition B and avoid the layoffs."

The HPFFA President Patrick M. "Mary" Lancton released the following statement on behalf of the organization and Houston Pro Fire Fighters Association

“The City of Houston has begun emailing firefighters layoff notices. We are deeply disappointed that
Samuel Peña has become the first fire chief in Houston history to willingly execute mass layoffs and
demotions of firefighters. From the city’s founding to the Great Depression, to two world wars and deep
downturns of the energy industry, no fire chief had taken this course of action until today. Chief Peña
now is alone among all Houston fire chiefs in that dubious distinction.

“Chief Peña previously claimed he would meet face-to-face with firefighters affected by the layoffs, but he did not do so today. Instead, he sent a callous email with a link to vague job-search resources. He also did not tell our association of his intentions today when we met with him for more than an hour. At this point, the fire chief is simply enabling the mayor to further punish firefighter families and neglect the
city’s fire service. The fire chief is carrying out Sylvester Turner’s slash-and-burn plan for HFD. Our
world-class fire department is being destroyed by third-rate politicians with the help of Chief Peña.

"We also note that the Houston City Council members who knowingly voted for hundreds of firefighter
layoffs and demotions – such as Martha Castex-Tatum, Robert Gallegos, David Robinson, and Karla
Cisneros – did not have the courage to personally present layoff notices to targeted firefighters in their
districts.

“We remind Houstonians that, contrary to what the fire chief claims, reduced fire and EMS coverage
will endanger our communities. City-funded analysis confirmed in 2016 that HFD is already understaffed and under-resourced. The forthcoming HFD personnel and service cuts – which follow a generation of neglect of HFD fleet and facilities – will only intensify risks to us and the citizens we serve.”

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