Mayor confident in pension reform despite firefighter opposition

Renowned for his powers of persuasion and fighting fiercely to fill the city's $8 billion pension hole, Mayor Sylvester Turner unleashed a unique metaphor at City Hall comparing a controversial rescue plan to his father's use of an old home remedy known as Syrup of Black Draught.

"You are not going to like it, but it's good for you," said Turner.

The mayor's message was aimed squarely at Houston firefighters both past and present--the only city union looking to torpedo the pension reform bills working their way through the Texas legislature. Given the city's financial condition, Turner believes the firefighters are being shortsighted.

"You want to hold on to your good thing, but if the city can no longer pay it, do you want to bankrupt the city too? You want us all to go down because no one wants to share, no one wants to give, no one wants to sacrifice?" asked Turner.

But firefighters say they were blindsided by cuts to promised benefits that simply run too deep.

"There was an additional $185 million in additional cuts that was put into that bill. Now please, somebody explain to me how $185 million ended up in a bill on the backs of firefighters," said Marty Lancton, President of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.

Firefighters are pushing back on a different front. They haven't had a pay raise since 2013 and are requesting a 21 percent hike in contract negotiations.

"We now know that we are one of the worst paid departments among the top cities in the U.S. and we lag in pay with the police officers at every rank an average of 60 percent," said Lancton.

To which the Mayor said, "I'm not talking about a pay raise. I'm talking about lay-offs."

Turner says support from the business community and both the police and municipal workers unions gives him confidence of gaining approval in Austin.

Asked if the City was still in negotiations with firefighters, Turner said, "That ship has sailed."