Texas Supreme Court in favor of collective bargaining to resolve Houston firefighters' contract dispute
HOUSTON - The Supreme Court ruling strikes down Prop B, saying local, municipal pay standards can not conflict with state law. A second decision reaffirms the need for collective bargaining, and judicial arbitration if the two sides can't agree. That's where the city and firefighters parted ways, six years ago, and there's been no deal, since then.
"The city has refused, they have ignored, and now it is time for this mayor to own what he has not done for the men and women of the Houston Fire Department," says Lancton.
Firefighters and the City of Houston will have to renew negotiations to find common ground. If not, the impasse will go to binding arbitration, with a state judge deciding.
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FOX 26 Senior Legal Analyst Chris Tritico says that decision would be final, "You can't kick it down the road. It's going to have to be dealt with because an arbitrator's going to rule, and I would venture a guess that ruling's going to be, 'You owe a lot of money'."
By some estimates, dealing with back pay could cost the city a billion dollars. Despite firefighters saying there's been no request for negotiation, from the City, for years, Mayor Sylvester Turner says he's gratified Prop B is finished, and insists the city is willing to talk.
"We stand ready to engage with collective bargaining with the firefighters, we've never been opposed to that," says Mayor Turner. "Just like we've negotiated with police, successfully, and municipal workers successfully, we're prepared to engage in the same process with firefighters."
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Both sides say they are, now, reviewing how to proceed, and when, with a fair amount of bad blood to resolve in the process. "Firefighters need a contract; they deserve a contract; I need them to have a contract, and I'm hoping that we can get there as soon as possible," says Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena.
The city points to an 18% pay raise, over three years, given to firefighters from COVID-relief funds. Firefighters say the money was more like a 'bonus', rather than settling the six-year dispute. Meantime, arbitration legislation is being considered by lawmakers, in Austin, that's opposed by the city but Marty Lancton believes could streamline a path to resolving the dispute.