HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Fighting fires is not easy. Neither is trying to manage a department caught in a crossfire.
The mayor and the union are battling over pay parity implementation. While they spar and negotiate about how to implement proposition B, it's Chief Pena's job to make the numbers work while keeping the rank and file happy.
The bad news is up to 378 firefighters and cadets could be out of work very, very soon. That is, unless the union gives in to the mayor and goes for a phased implementation.
"I think that would be the best option, because if you give us enough time, if we get enough time, 2,3,4 years. Whatever they can manage, we will be able to absorb the amount of positions by year," Chief Pena said.
In other words, retire, not fire. Last week, it came out that the mayor was floating a proposal to reduce the amount of incentive pay firefighters would get. Whole categories would be eliminated. It would mean a 7 to 1 imbalance in favor of the police department.
The city controller had questions about its legality. Pena questions the fairness.
"To me, it's pretty simple. Whatever Proposition B implementation requires is what firefighters should receive," he said.
He says the city’s lawyers are working on doing it legally.
But in the meantime, he has to prepare for the worst case-scenario. He has to deal with a $20 million hole in the budget.
He says that's too big to come out of the operational side of the budget. It has to come from personnel. He says they will change staffing levels and shifts, but won't close fire stations. However, he can't make any layoff without council approval. Council member Dwight Boykins thinks there’s another way.
"Long story short, there are ways that we can protect city employees through no fault of their own will lose their jobs and health care. City, fire, police over some decisions that we chose not to make," he says.
Pena will present his proposal to the public safety committee of city council tomorrow. The full council could vote on it on the 17th.