Prop B: No layoffs, no demotions, no raises... still no clarity

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019
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13 Investigates' Ted Oberg breaks down the legal arguments over Prop B, the voter-approved pay parity plan for Houston firefighters that was ruled unconstitutional Wednesday by a state district court judge.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston's Proposition B, the voter-approved pay parity plan for Houston firefighters, has been ruled unconstitutional by a state district court judge.

The decision came down Wednesday morning, with the court saying that Prop B is void in its entirety. Hours later, firefighters signaled their intention to appeal.

Mayor Sylvester Turner called the ruling "tremendous" and "positive," saying that there won't be a need to lay off anyone, including 47 municipal workers, 220 firefighters, and 67 cadets if the ruling stands.

"There will be no need to lay off municipal workers, and no need to lay off firefighters, and we can bring back the cadets, and there will be no need for demotions of anyone within the fire department," Turner told reporters at City Hall.

But the decision also means the raises firefighters were set to get under Prop B will not go into effect either.

Last Friday, many but not all Houston firefighters got larger paychecks as the city began to implement Prop B. Those raises will now be "scaled back," according to Mayor Turner.

He said at a Wednesday news conference it is unlikely the city would "claw back" the money paid last week.

However, Turner said repeatedly he wants to give firefighters some raise. "I do look forward to sitting down and talking with (the firefighters' union) about what would be an acceptable pay raise within the confines of the city's financial capability."

Turner mentioned a 9.5% raise as a starting point. No talks have been scheduled and the fire union remains skeptical.

"I don't know that anybody believes that this mayor has been an honest broker in this," union president Marty Lancton told ABC13. "We definitely question what his motivations are."

Wednesday afternoon, hours after the ruling was issued, lawyers representing the firefighters' union filed a notice of appeal.

"This is about a democracy and this is about the fact that you have one district court judge that has ruled that it is constitutional (months ago) and one district court judge that has ruled it's unconstitutional," union president Lancton told ABC13. "We will absolutely be appealing."

It quickly ends the mayor's hope that the initial ruling would be a chance for all sides to "reset" and move past court. Houstonians may be ready for an end to the protracted Prop B fight, but it was likely an appeal would've been filed no matter what side won Wednesday morning.

The ruling concerns a lawsuit brought by the Houston Police Officers' Union, which argued Prop B conflicted with the Texas Constitution and Texas law.

The police union and the city said Prop B would have changed the way that fire unions negotiate for pay raises. Before Judge Tanya Garrison ruled, she sent both sides to mediation, which failed.

HPOU released a statement Wednesday saying, in part, "It was the HPOU's position that the existing law governing how Houston Fire Fighters negotiate their pay was in complete conflict with Prop B and the Judge agreed. Unfortunately, case law did not allow our lawsuit to be filed prior to the election, but thankfully the law finally prevailed."

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