HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Faced with the daunting task of delivering a voter-approved $100 million a year pay raise to Houston firefighters, Mayor Sylvester Turner very publicly asked the leaders of IAFF Local 341 to consider spreading the increase over multiple years, a concession that he says would limit or avoid layoffs.
"Are you willing to spread it out over a period of time, so we don't have to lay off a lot of firefighters and other individuals and we are being as least disruptive to city services?," asked Turner. "I've had people say to me, 'I voted for parity, but I didn't vote for layoffs.'"
It was the first official face-to-face meeting between firefighters and the City of Houston since Proposition B prevailed decisively at the polls in November 2018 and again in the courtroom weeks later.
Firefighter union leaders have repeatedly floated the possibility of spreading out the pay raise on condition it was part of a new contract and would eliminate the need for a reduction in force.
After months of acrimony, Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association president Marty Lancton and negotiator Troy Blakeney reacted to Mayor Turner's offer with caution, but signaled a willingness to meet again and pursue a potential job-saving deal.
"What I would tell you that I believe is it is a start, moving forward and there should be additional meetings," said Blakeney. "Whether those meetings will be productive, who knows?"
"Houston firefighters said it," said Lancton. "We will meet any time, any place, anywhere and the firefighters kept their word. Now we are waiting for the City to keep theirs."
If there is a return to the bargaining table, much of the leverage lies with the firefighters union, which could insist on immediate payment of the raise to its members on the bet that the Mayor won't proceed with the layoffs of popular first responders during a year when he's seeking re-election.