City, firefighters union agree on mediator for Prop B dispute

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

HOUSTON - Houston leaders and the union representing the city’s firefighters have agreed to a mediator who will work to reach an agreement on the implementation of Proposition B.

In a court order issued Monday, Judge Tanya Garrison said that both parties have agreed to let Dave Matthiesen, a well-known Houston lawyer, mediate the dispute over the voter-mandated pay parity between firefighters and their Police Department counterparts.

Matthiesen is the person agreed to Friday by the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. 

According to Garrison’s order, the city also agreed to Matthiesen, provided the mediation happens on Monday or Tuesday of this week. The union objected to that, saying more time was needed to prepare for mediation and brief union members at a meeting Wednesday. Ultimately, Garrison overruled the union’s objection and ordered them to attend mediation starting Monday afternoon.

DOCUMENT: Read Judge Garrison's order on Prop B mediation

Garrison has also ordered both parties to continue mediation until a settlement is achieved or until Matthiesen determines an impasse has been reached.

The main sticking point in the dispute is the amount of time needed to roll out Prop B and how many layoffs will occur based on the time frame. 

HPFFA has agreed to a 3.5-year implementation, but only if the union can be granted access to the city's financial records and that no layoffs happen. 

"We'll see," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on his way in the door, responding to the question, "Is it going to get done?" from Channel 2 investigator, Joel Eisenbaum. 

Time is of the essence because between 200 and 300 jobs are on the line, as city council takes up the matter of firefighter layoffs on Wednesday, with budget deadlines looming. 

Turner has said that layoffs will be necessary to institute Prop B within that time frame. He said that five years of rollout would be needed in order to prevent layoffs. 

Also present at the initial meeting, HPFFA President, Patrick "Marty" Lancton; HPOU President, Joe Gamaldi; City Attorney Ronald Lewis; and Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena. 

The same group is expected to attend a mediation session Tuesday, the third go-round is set for next Monday.

Mediation produces a nonbinding outcome, but both the mayor and the HPFFA have said they will abide by any agreement. 

Lancton released a statement Monday that read: 

"Houston firefighters welcome the order of the court regarding mediation. Only time will tell if Sylvester Turner is serious about using mediation to negotiate implementation of Proposition B. Last week, he was against mediation. Now, after the court order, he's for it. So far, the mayor has avoided working with us for two years, offering every excuse imaginable for not resolving our differences. As for mediation, our team is ready to sensibly address all of the issues before the court. We appreciate the opportunity to go before a neutral mediator and finally make some progress with the city. We will do whatever it takes, 24 hours a day, if necessary, to give the mediation a chance to succeed." 

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