City, HFD Union reach tentative agreement to end rolling brownouts

By Ryan Korsgard - Reporter , Jill Courtney

HOUSTON - A tentative agreement has been reached between Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association (Local 341) President Bryan Sky-Eagle and Houston Fire Department Chief Terry Garrison to end the rolling brownouts within the fire department.

The short-term agreement was announced Monday morning during a joint press conference.

Mayor Annise Parker said, "The city is agreeing to keep all fire trucks in service. Provided that the two week average for unscheduled absences does not exceed 35 members per day. Should this two week average be exceeded, the city reserves the right to remove units from service."

Last Tuesday, Local 341 filed a temporary restraining order against the City and Chief Garrison. The union said cutbacks to emergency service were not the way to fix the department's $8.5 million deficit. A judge denied the lawsuit later that afternoon during a civil court hearing.

The proposal calls for elimination of guaranteed holidays through the end of June and other changes designed to control overtime costs going forward.

Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison said, "We want you to call 911 when you need us. We want you to have faith in your fire department. We've got a good fire department. We just want to continue to be there for you."

In addition, based on a wage reopener clause in the existing three-year contract, firefighters will receive a two-percent across-the-board pay increase and a one-time uniform allowance with a total value of $3.64 million. The city agreed to keep all fire trucks in service, provided that the two-week average of unscheduled absences does not exceed 35 members per day. Daily staffing levels will also determine whether the seven ambulances removed from service on February 25 will be placed back in service or remain idle through the end of June.

Parker said the Houston City Council and Local 341 must vote on the proposal before it becomes final.

Sky-Eagle said he is looking to get the union to vote on the proposal before the end of the week.  He said, "Firemen have done nothing wrong. I think that's come to light. In this process, it's a very difficult process at times, but we are working together."

The city council would vote next week.

"I want to thank the union for working with us to help find a solution for this situation," said Parker. "This is an example of what can happen when both sides are willing to negotiate in good faith. Through productive give-and-take we were able to develop a short-term agreement that will be beneficial to the rank and file while also allowing us to deal with the overtime issue and avoid the need for idling any of our fire trucks."

Parker, Sky-Eagle and Garrison said this agreement is in the best interest of the public and HFD firefighters. They also all stressed the importance of the safety for all.

"Both the City and Local 341 are committed to public safety," Parker said.

"This is a win for the citizens of Houston and the firefighters are proud to work with Chief Garrison and the mayor to stop any further EMS units and fire apparatus from being removed from service." Sky-Eagle said.

Parker said the agreement would carry out through the end of June, which is the end of the fiscal year.

The city and Local 341 are still negotiating a new three-year agreement which would take effect for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.

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