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Houston City Council Approves Laying Off 220 Firefighters

Earlier this week, representatives from the city and the firefighters union had started negotiating the implementation of the pay parity with a mediator.

Gail Delaughter/Houston Public Media

More than 200 Houston firefighters will be laid off after the City Council approved the measure Wednesday during a heated debate. The decision comes as the city tries to implement voter-mandated pay parity between the local police and fire departments. Mayor Sylvester Turner has said that the measure will cost the city $307 million from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2023.

In order to pay for that, Turner says layoffs are needed. In the measure passed Wednesday, the city of Houston will layoff 220 firefighters. The vote was 10-6.

Council volleyed back and forth over whether to delay the vote on layoffs. Councilman Mike Knox said it interfered with ongoing court-ordered mediation between the city and the firefighters union over how to implement voter-mandated raises.

"I'm just asking the administration to hold off bringing this before council until it is a requirement that we have to make this decision," Knox said.

However, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the decision couldn't wait.

"And in all due respect, it is a requirement," Turner said. "The budget requires that you make a decision today."

If the council had voted against the firefighter layoffs, the mayor said the city would have immediately issued pink slips to 220 employees in other departments.

According to Turner, the firefighter layoffs can still be reversed if mediation reaches a deal to phase in the Prop B pay raises over a five-year period.

The union has said they're willing to agree to a 3.5-year phase-in, a proposal the mayor offered them in a letter sent to the union on April 3, although he warned that option would still entail “some (firefighter) layoffs.”

Mediation underway

Earlier this week, representatives from the city and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association started negotiating the implementation of the pay parity with attorney David Matthiesen as mediator.

Since voters approved Proposition B last November to pay firefighters the same as police officers on a rank-by-rank basis, Turner and Patrick ‘Marty' Lancton, president of the firefighters' union, have feuded publicly over how to implement those pay raises.

The mayor's main argument has been that the city can't afford to pay the same to police officers and firefighters without hurting its finances and budget. He has also stressed that Proposition B didn't identify a funding source for the pay parity.

Lancton has criticized the mayor for a lack of transparency and risking the public's safety by laying off firefighters. In a statement, the union categorized the vote as “one of the most reckless political stunts in Houston history.”

Lancton told News 88.7 he will meet again with city representatives next Monday, April 29, to continue the negotiation over pay parity implementation.

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