Prop B combatants ordered back to the bargaining table

A major dose of uncertainty has been injected into the ongoing legal battle over voter approved pay parity for firefighters.

The 14th Court of Appeals has ordered the City, the police union and the Houston Association of Professional Firefighters back to the table for a second round of mediation in a matter of months.

Firefighters say they're ready and willing.

"You can bet Houston firefighters stand ready to resolve any differences, as we always have, in a fair and impartial way. The question is going to become is what this mayor is going to do?" said Marty Lancton, president of the firefighter's union.

With two separate lawsuits, involving the City and firefighters squarely on its docket, the appeals court is giving the warring parties 60 days to cut a deal.

Opponents seeking to dislodge Mayor Sylvester Turner from City Hall were quick to react.

"This is just absolutely irresponsible for a CEO of an organization to allow a dispute like this to go on," said mayoral candidate Bill King.

"The appeals court realized what was in front of them and realized this thing can be worked out and hopefully the Mayor will be open to it," said mayoral candidate Dwight Boykins.

"A competent mayor would roll up his sleeves and personally work out a deal with the firefighters," said mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon Mayor Turner said:

"The parties met three different times in mediation with no success. While the most realistic course to move forward is to proceed with state authorized collective bargaining, which the firefighters requested from the legislature in 2005, the City of Houston will comply with the order to mediate."

All parties involved have until August 12th to complete the mediation and report to the court.

Asked for comment regarding the court's order, Joe Gamaldi, President of the Houston Police Officers Union said:

"This once again gives the Fire Union an opportunity to put this unfortunate, yet avoidable, chapter in their history behind them. They have an opportunity to stop the costly lawsuits, stop the litigation, stop the rhetoric and work out a deal, because ultimately that is what our community wants.

We can only hope that the Fire Union will sit down with Mayor Turner in good faith and negotiate a deal to drop their appeal but also provide for a reasonable pay raise, one that does not push the City to the precipice of bankruptcy."