Houston’s firefighters are suing the city council arguing the city is giving them a raw deal as it relates to pay and benefits.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday, according to the Houston Press, comes after a months-long clash between the firefighters union, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, and City Hall over a new labor contract. The city’s 3,800 firefighters have been without a contract for three years, and have been under a temporary contract that expires Friday — the end of the fiscal year.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the City Council unanimously approved updates to local law Wednesday morning that include less favorable employment terms for firefighters, which the city contends is a “stop-gap measure,” until the city and fire union agree on a new contract.
Mayor Sylvester Turner tells the Chronicle he’s offered several times to extend the status quo evergreen labor agreement another 30 days, but the fire union rejected his offer.
“When you say no, what do you expect a city to do?” Sylvester tells the Chronicle, reiterating the administration wants to reach a deal with firefighters. “They made their choice.”
Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton disputes the mayor’s account, contending the city never offered to extend evergreen’s terms.
“We just wanted a third party to come in and say what’s fair,” Lancton tells the Chronicle.
Feeling like negotiations are at an impasse the union sued, alleging that the city has been unfairly “playing hardball” and failing to negotiate in good faith.
The Houston Press reports the union is asking the court to order the city into arbitration, which the city has so far refused to do.
After Wednesday’s council meeting and decision, firefighters, wearing yellow shirts, rallied outside Houston City Hall. Speakers included Lancton and members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents firefighters in the United States and Canada.
The Houston Press reports this instance is not the first time firefighters have reached out to the courts.
Firefighters battled Mayor Turner as he shepherded Houston’s pension-reform plan through the Texas Legislature. The plan decreased retirement benefits for city employees, including police and firefighters. Turner warned that without pension reform, he’d have no choice but to lay off as many as 2,200 city employees.
The firefighters’ retirement fund sued, arguing that its members were getting a raw deal. But the deal sailed through the legislature and was signed by Governor Greg Abbott at the end of May.
The Chronicle reports Turner, anticipating litigation, cut short Wednesday’s council discussion about firefighters’ employment terms, telling council members, “I don’t want to go much further than we are.”
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