Judge validates voter-approved pay parity for Houston firefighters

A courthouse bid to invalidate voter-approved pay parity for Houston firefighters has crashed and burned.

Waged by the Police Union and supported by Mayor Sylvester Turner, the legal challenge alleged the $100 million a year pay hike was unconstitutional and would result in substantial financial damage to the City.

But in his six-page ruling, District Judge Randy Wilson found the ballot initiative complied with the law and that voters were well aware of pay parity's heavy expense and chose to approve by an overwhelming margin.

His order lifted a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of Proposition B.

"Prop B is the law. That's where it is today. There is no question," said Troy Blakeney, attorney for the Firefighters Union.

"The question now is whether the mayor will continue to defy the will of voters and continue to punish firefighters and their families," said Marty Lancton, President of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.

In response to the ruling, the Houston Police Officers Union warned of impending layoffs.

"While the HPOU feels for the fire employees who may be laid off and the reduction of services to the public, we have done everything in our power to stop the catastrophic effects of Prop B. Fire union leaders have said the mayor is only bluffing and layoffs are a scare tactic. We shall see."

While the Police Union and the City have the option to appeal, firefighters are racking up an estimated $2 million a week in back pay.

Better, says Lancton and a growing number of City Council members, to return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fresh deal - a new contract which both softens the financial blow and preserves jobs.

"As the firefighters have stated again, pick up the phone, call us," said Lancton.

"I'm a little busy on December 25th, but other than that day I'm willing to meet with him (Mayor Turner) whenever he wants to do it," said Blakeney.

Mayor Turner issued the following statement:

"Based on the judge's ruling, as this case proceeds through the legal system the City will start the process to implement Prop B -- pending a final court determination on whether it was pre-empted by state law. Make no mistake, the stakes are extremely high, as the judge highlighted in the ruling. The testimony, he said, was that Prop B will cost the City over $100 million per year, which could result in significant layoffs and a reduction of services.

"Sadly that is true, and it will trigger the layoffs of less senior firefighters to pay the salaries of firefighters who have been employed longer.

"The implementation of Prop B will not happen overnight but the process does start now. I ask Houstonians to bear with us as we work through this process while the legal matters are still being resolved."