Firefighters willing to postpone pay hike to head-off city layoffs

The overwhelming Prop B vote to pay Houston Firefighters the same as Houston Police has triggered plans by Mayor Sylvester Turner to layoff as many as 1,000 city workers - a Draconian measure he says is necessary to fund the will of the people.

Today at City Hall, Councilman Dwight Boykins urged caution, saying firefighters have told him they are willing to preserve jobs by spreading their pay raise over three years in a new contract.

"If we are going to sit up here and lay them off because it's easy to do and we can negotiate terms to keep people employed, maybe we all need to step out of here," said Boykins adding, "'I'll be damned if I'm going let that happen on my watch! "

FOX 26 asked firefighter union president Marty Lancton if the proposal to spread out the voter-approved pay hike was legitimate.

Lancton says it's very much on the table, citing his November 8th letter to Mayor Turner calling for a renewal of negotiations.

"This is about an implementation of Proposition B that's best for everybody and we call upon the elected officials and we call upon this mayor to put the divisive politics of public safety behind us," said Lancton.

Meantime, the Houston Black Fire Fighters Association is sending the mayor their own letter contending his cost-saving proposal to reduce from four to three the number of firefighter shifts would violate a consent decree issued in 1993 to settle a federal lawsuit alleging decades of discrimination against minority members of the department seeking promotion.

"From four shifts to three shifts would be detrimental to the hiring of minorities, the promotion of minorities in the Houston Fire Department, male, female, Asian, Hispanic. We are all still minorities in this city and attempting to go back to that, out of spite, would not be good for the citizens," said Delance Shaw, President of HBFFA.

Former City Attorney Dave Feldman appeared before council to tell members the Charter Amendment approved by voters with Proposition B places no restrictions on the actual implementation of "pay parity". Feldman also said as a matter of state law, it's his belief that a new collective bargaining agreement between the city and firefighters would supersede the Charter Amendment approved at the ballot box.

Mayor Turner is traveling overseas on city business and was not present in council chambers to respond to the call for new negotiations with firefighters.

A spokesperson for the mayor says the city has yet to receive the letter from the Houston Black Fire Fighters Association and will have to review the legal ramifications of the consent decree if and when the letter arrives.

Concerning the issue of whether a new collective bargaining agreement would prevail over a local ordinance or ballot initiative the Mayor’s office submitted a previously issued statement which reads in part, “Subject to further review by outside counsel, the city believes that the charter amendment is preempted by state law, which prescribes the exclusive process for establishing pay for classified firefighters.”