HOUSTON (FOX 26) — A flurry of "pink slips" were distributed on Thursday as dozens of firefighter cadets were formally notified that the City of Houston was laying them off.
Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Pena sent the letter to multiple firefighter cadets notifying them of a "force reduction" related to the implementation of Proposition B with their last day of employment as June 7, 2019. Chief Pena said the positions for which the cadets had trained were being eliminated.
Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, tells FOX 26 News that the layoffs affect approximately 70 firefighter cadets.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said layoff notices would begin this week as the City implements Proposition B, the voter-approved "pay parity" for firefighters with their Houston Police Department peers. The Mayor's office released the following statement on Thursday evening:
Proposition B came without a funding source as it adds $80 million to $100 million a year to the city's bottom line. At the same time, the city is experiencing a $117 million budget gap, with the cost of Prop B added on top of that.
By law, the city must balance its budget before the start of the next fiscal year, July 1.
The City asked Patrick "Marty" Lancton of the firefighters' association to phase in Prop B over five years to avoid any layoffs of firefighters and municipal workers. He refused and is demanding the immediate implementation of Prop B. The City is doing precisely that. but it will require layoffs to balance the city's budget.
Today the 67 fire cadets received notice that they will be laid off in 60 days. Next week 47 municipal workers will receive notices. And on April 17, City Council will vote on layoffs of classified (first responder) personnel.
In the absence of a phased-in approach, the City's options are limited when we must balance our budget by the end of June.
Mayor Turner's office had estimated that between 400 and 500 firefighters and municipal employees would be laid off with 60-day notices to be issued in April.
Turner says the reduction of 68 cadets and up to 400 firefighters is necessary to offset the $79 million cost of the voter-mandated pay raise. The 68 cadets completed the eight-month training course at expense of taxpayers, but they were never sworn in.
Lancton released the following statement on Thursday afternoon:
Sylvester Turner’s layoff notices to taxpayer-funded, Houston-trained HFD cadets reflect the mayor’s ineptitude, egotism, and a new depth of his vindictiveness.
Today marks another sordid chapter of Turner’s reckless neglect of the fire department and his contempt for firefighter families and 298,000 Proposition B voters.
As the mayor knows, the announced HFD cadet layoffs are preventable. We hope more Houston City Council members finally will stand up to Turner and reject his slash-and-burn plan for HFD. His next move likely will be to lay off more firefighters and close fire stations in city council districts throughout the city. In the meantime, we urge citizens to contact their City Council members about the threatened HFD cadet and firefighter layoffs.
The consequences of Turner’s endless political and legal war on firefighters families will soon include diminished public safety – from slower response times to unavailability of critical fire and EMS resources in times of peak demand.
Today’s firefighter cadet layoff notices, which followed the city’s announcement of a new Houston Police Department class this week and his recent hiring of hundreds of police and civilian employees, also show once again that the mayor manufactured a fiscal crisis to justify his intensifying retaliation against firefighters.