Houston firefighters set to get big Prop B checks overnight, but say city's implementation falls short

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For months, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had May 9 circled on his calendar as the day he would implement Prop B, the voter-approved pay parity plan for Houston firefighters. Now the day has come.

Large lump sum payments to thousands of Houston firefighters will deposit in their bank accounts by the time they wake up Friday morning.

But firefighters say the plan rolling out Thursday is not what voters approved in Prop B; it may not be legal and they still have questions.

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For one, the Prop B-related pay increases the mayor approved start on Jan. 1. Firefighters suggest it should start weeks earlier when city council approved the Prop B vote.

More importantly, firefighters say Turner and his administration are using a still-secret formula to determine which firefighter gets what level of pay.

No list of salary increases or incentive pays has been made public or - the union says - even provided to the firefighters' union. The only way they will be able to re-create City Hall's math is by looking at firefighter's individual pay stubs.

The Prop B pay raises come in two parts: The first, base pay increases, are based on matching police and fire ranks. There are remaining questions about how pay is determined when it comes to rank and seniority.

The more serious financial questions come when firefighters attempt to determine which incentive can be offered to which firefighter. Those incentives are huge salary categories for police officers, benefits they earned through negotiation. Voters decided firefighters should get the same.

The mayor and his city finance team are the ones who interpreted those categories for the implementation Thursday. Talks aimed at a negotiated settlement failed.

Police officers earn millions for field training, mentoring, working nights, weekends or as investigators. According to city budget documents obtained by ABC13 Eyewitness News, firefighters will get just a fraction of that amount.

City documents turned over after a public information request show Houston police officers earned $27 million in 2018 for having advanced police certifications. Firefighters would earn just $6.4 million in a full year for their version of advanced certifications.

Police earned $12 million for having college or graduate degrees, in addition to tuition reimbursement to defray the cost of those degrees. Firefighters will get just $1.4 million, according to the budget documents, far less even considering there are fewer firefighters.

No allocation was made for firefighter tuition reimbursement next year. A number may come later as the city determines how many firefighters enroll in a degree program.

Ironically, many of the 220 firefighters that are about to be laid off and hundreds more in line for demotions are expected to get a pay bump in the overnight checks, only to be laid off at the end of June if no deal is reached.

Mayor Turner's office says the mayor is also hopeful a deal can be worked out pointing out the mayor discussed a three and a half year phase-in proposal last week in mediation. No agreement could be reached at those sessions before the mediator declared an impasse.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña is still hopeful a deal can happen.

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