The city of Houston was sued by its own firefighters Wednesday after city council members approved a pay and benefits deal that is less generous that the department's current plan.
The move is the latest salvo in a months-long dispute between the firefighters union, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, and City Hall over a new labor contract. The city's 3,800 firefighters have been without a contract for three years, and have been under a temporary contract that expires on Friday, the end of the fiscal year.
Negotiators from the firefighters union declared an impasse in May, so in lieu of a new contract, City Council imposed new employment terms that offer less flexibility for overtime and holiday pay, as well as stop city contributions into the firefighers' medical fund. The move had the support of Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña, who told the Houston Chronicle the city needed a new temporary agreement until the sides can agree on a permanent contract.
So the union sued, alleging that the city has been unfairly "playing hardball" and failing to negotiate in good
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faith. The union asked the court to order the city to enter into arbitration, which the city has so far refused to do.
After Wednesday's council meeting, firefighters, wearing yellow shirts, rallied outside City Hall. Speakers included firefighters union president Marty Lancton and members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents firefighters in the United States and Canada.
Firefighters were also a thorn in the side of City Hall as Mayor Sylvester Turner shepherded Houston's pension reform plan through the Texas Legislature. The plan decreased retirement benefits for city employees, including police and firefighters, but without it, Turner warned he'd have no choice but to lay off as many as 2,200 city employees.
The firefighters' retirement fund sued, arguing that its members were getting a raw deal. But the deal sailed through the Legislature and was signed by Governor Greg Abbott at the end of May.