City of Houston moves forward with $650 million deal with fire union

Wednesday, March 20, 2024
New developments in city's deal with Houston firefighters
What was supposed to be a status conference turned into a back and forth when an attorney claimed 100 firefighters were being cut out of the deal.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The ongoing political saga surrounding the City of Houston and the firefighters' contract took another turn on Monday.

At what was supposed to be a status conference, a lawyer showed up saying he represented 101 former Houston firefighters whom he claims were getting "cut out of the deal."

That lawyer, along with attorneys for the firefighters union and the city, went back and forth for about 45 minutes Monday morning.

The lawyer representing the around 100 firefighters was concerned that firefighters who worked for HFD for less than 10 years weren't part of the newly agreed $650 million deal. The union lawyers assured him they were included, and the judge denied his motion to intervene.

So far, this is one step closer to what the firefighters union has been hoping for.

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

"We're moving forward. We have a deal that's capped at $650 million, no matter how many people show up," said attorney Troy Blakeney, who represents the firefighters union. "If you fit in that box, you're entitled to the money. Obviously part of why it's confidential is you move those numbers up and down a little bit. But with $650 million and 4,000 people, it doesn't move up a lot or down a lot."

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.

At this point, there are just a lot of technical things happening with the deal. Attorneys for both sides agree that it will likely not be settled until the end of May or even early June.

The court hearing wasn't the only action regarding the tentative deal. Two city council members sent a letter to Mayor John Whitmire about it.

Council members Tiffany Thomas and Edward Pollard support giving firefighters money, but they have questions about the details.

"If we have a property tax cap, we're limited in what we can do," Thomas explained. "Does that mean we move forward with a trash fee? Does that mean we have other fees for other services in the city?"

"The taxpayers are the ones that are going to have to foot the bill," Pollard said. "They should understand what they're paying for, how they're paying for it, how long they're paying for it, and what do they get in return."

The letter states: "We are in agreement that our firefighters must be paid a competitive salary, however, due to minimal engagement from your office on any specifics and non-response from you to previous emails on the subject, we have questions on whether the proposed deal is in the city's best financial interest, or will it ultimately cause dire fiscal challenges that will impact services citywide for years to come."

Thomas said as of Monday night, they haven't received a response. Both said they expect this topic to be discussed at this week's council meeting.