City of Houston reaches $650 million deal with fire union to help resolve outstanding pay issues

Pooja Lodhia Image
Friday, March 15, 2024
City of Houston reaches $650M deal with firefighters' union
As Houston's population goes up, so does the need for first responders. Now, Mayor John Whitmire is keeping true to his promise to pay firefighters.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston firefighters will have a contract with the city for the first time in eight years.

It'll cost more than $650 million, but Mayor John Whitmire said the agreement will avoid expensive legal fees and finally put an end to what has been a political saga.

Whitmire was endorsed by the union during his campaign, and he has now followed through on this promise and reached an agreement. Former Mayor Sylvester Turner wasn't able to do that in his two terms at City Hall.

Houston, a city of about 2.3 million people, currently has only about 3,600 firefighters, and they're paid less than those in comparable cities in the state.

"We are down 500 firefighters than where we were in 2010, and that should be alarming to everybody. And the reason that they've left is low morale and low pay," Houston Professional Firefighters Association President Patrick "Marty" Lancton said. "You cannot have public safety be a priority when you're losing people to go to other departments."

SEE ALSO: Mayor orders attorney to withdraw appeal of city's challenge to case involving firefighter backpay

The new settlement has three main promises:

  • All current firefighters, retired firefighters, and the families of firefighters who have died since 2017 will receive lump sum payments totaling $650 million.
  • The raises Mayor Turner put in place back in 2021 would now become permanent, and firefighters would get an additional 10% raise starting in July.
  • More raises are promised over the next five years, with a total pay increase of 34% by 2029.

"This is the first time firefighters have felt like there is actual light at the end of the tunnel," Lancton said.

"An agreement of this nature is absolutely necessary to recruit and retain firefighters in the quality and numbers needed to serve the largest city in Texas," Whitmire said in a statement. "I want to reiterate that it helps avoid further unnecessary litigation costs, the uncertainty of multiple decisions by a court or an arbitration panel, and allows us to move forward together."

But this comes at a time when Mayor Whitmire is asking most city departments to cut 5% of budgets.

To pay firefighters, the city will have to issue judgment bonds, which basically means borrowing money from the municipal bond market.

That allows the city to spread out the costs over decades, but it also means the city will be paying interest payments and taking on more debt.

"If you didn't address it, there was a trial on March 25, and on March 25, the liability the city had was going to be well in excess of $1 billion," Lancton said.

Lawyers will present this settlement to a judge on Monday, and it could move forward by next week.

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