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City reaches tentative agreement with firefighters union

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The agreement, if approved by firefighters, would give them a four percent raise across the board for the duration of the contract (KTRK)

Mayor Annise Parker has announced that the City of Houston has reached a tentative agreement with the city firefighters union. The agreement, if approved by firefighters, would give them a four percent raise across the board for the duration of the contract. In return, the firefighters will give up some flexibility as to how much vacation time and time off they can take arbitrarily in the department.

Earlier this year the inflexibility of the firefighters' current contract caused a major overtime crunch within the fire department. The department went $8 million over budget. That required a temporary fix to be put in until the new contract could pass, which should happen late this month.

Controversial brownouts also occurred at certain stations around the city. All sides agreed that they would like to avoid brownouts, where certain equipments are idled because firefighters are not available to staff them, and certainly this contract that is proposed is an effort to make that happen.

This proposed contract strictly addresses how much firefighters are paid, how much vacation time they take, how much overtime they earn. It does not address other issues related to the fire department, which is currently working through the annual budget process.

This contract is not related to the ongoing debate over firefighter pensions. The firefighters' pension board governs the pensions, which the mayor has said are unsustainable at its current rate. Mayor Parker and the pension board have been at odds. There are ongoing lawsuits, which are unrelated to this particular agreement with the union.

However, that does not mean the pension board has nothing to say. In fact Pension Board Chair Todd Clark has already issued a statement.

    "The pension board strongly opposes this tentative agreement due to the fact the Mayor's retaliatory actions aim to remove the pension chairman, Todd Clark's position from the new contract. The pension board will be encouraging members not to support the agreement as it will put their pensions at risk."

Mayor Parker is expected to appear with Union President Bryan Sky-Eagle and encourage Houston firefighters to pass the proposed union contract.
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