The stand-off is over, for now. Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston Firefighter’s Union have come to a tentative agreement that will help the city avoid a threatened reduction in fire service.
It is a short-term agreement, which Houston Mayor Annise Parker says will not only avoid the brown-outs of fire apparatus proposed earlier to solve an $8.5-million dollar overtime shortfall:
"...but also will allow us to meet commitments we made in the current HFD union contract. It gives us an opportunity to show good faith to each other, but also to solve a problem that had unexpectedly arisen, and to demonstrate to the public our continued strong commitment to public safety."
The proposal calls for the elimination of guaranteed holidays through the end of June and other changes designed to control overtime costs going forward. Firefighters will also be getting a 2-percent across-the-board pay increase and a one-time uniform allowance at a cost of $ 3.64 million dollars:
"This is an example of what can happen when both sides negotiate in good faith. Through productive give-and-take, we were able to develop a short term agreement that will be beneficial to the rank and file, while also allowing us to deal with the overtime problem."
The city is agreeing to keep all fire trucks in service, provided that the 2 week average of unscheduled absences does not exceed 35 members per day. If the average goes over, the city has the right to remove units from service.
Fire Chief Terry Garrison says negotiations were long, but worth it.
"We started the collective bargaining agreement in December, and we met and we said we're going to be 'intra-space' bargaining. We're going to focus on what's good for both sides, and we came together and focused on really, firefighter safety and customer service. And that's what this agreement is. It's a focus on firefighter safety, customer service while helping us be fiscally responsible."
Firefighter Union President Bryan Sky-Eagle called it a win for citizens, who don't have to worry about the shortage of EMS or fire trucks.
"At the end of the day, firemen know that public safety far out-values any timing of benefits. And it's a very difficult process at times but we are working together. There are things that felt they're being given up that they shouldn't be, but it's being differed. I want to make that clear."
Pending approval by the rank and file and City Council, the interim agreement takes effect immediately and will last through the end of the current fiscal year on June 30th.