Houston settles 8-year firefighters’ pay dispute with agreement approval

After an eight-year financial faceoff, the Houston City Council has approved a new contract with city firefighters, including $650 million, in back-pay.

The firefighters' last contract expired in 2016, and when negotiations stalled, firefighters sued the city to get paid, as former mayor Sylvester Turner was unable to reach a deal with the union. 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Houston firefighter pay deal: $650M in bonds for back pay approved by council

In 2018, Houston voters passed Proposition B, which would have paid police and firefighters similarly. That measure was overturned last year by the Texas Supreme Court, saying it conflicted with state law while reaffirming the need for collective bargaining and judicial arbitration, if the two sides couldn't agree. That left the city with word it could be on the hook for more than a billion dollars to settle.

Newly-elected mayor John Whitmire pledged to reach a deal, and Houston firefighters now have a five-year contract. The final hurdle appeared to be certification from city controller Chris Hollins, but some council members still had some pushback before the vote.

District J City Council Member Edward Pollard was the most vocal of the few members, who questioned the scope of the city's financial liability in the firefighter deal, "Nothing has been clarified on how do we pay for that."

A frustrated Mayor Whitmire was not sure some of it wasn't politically motivated, but in the end. 

"I understand what you're doing, and you're doing a good job of trying to gut the agreement," Whitmire answered to Pollard, who denied the accusation.

FOX 26 Houston is now on the FOX LOCAL app available through Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Roku, Google Android TV, Samsung TV, and Vizio!

In the end, concern that a court fight would be more expensive than agreement, the council vote was a unanimous 14 to 0, for those in attendance.

Outside council chambers, firefighters and their leadership cheered the end of a long fight. 

"It shouldn't hurt to be a Houston firefighter," says firefighter 'Mo' Davis. "We want two things, as a fireman: I want to serve the community, and I want to make a livable wage. I'm not gonna' get rich at this, I'm a public servant."

Houston Professional Firefighter's Association President, Marty Lancton, praised firefighters resilience, "They've gone a long time, and they showed up every day. They didn't get to take a break, even when they were being treated the way they were. They showed up every day. There is no stop in Houston firefighters."

Mayor Whitmire admits it's an unavoidably expensive deal that came down to one question, "Do we have the money for it? We did, and going forward, there will be a challenge to, not only, pay the firefighters settlement, but the other incurred expenses."

The new contract goes into effect with the city's new fiscal year at the beginning of July. Firefighter paychecks will reflect their raise, on July 25.