PROP B: Talks end, acrimony continues, layoffs on deck

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Friday morning, court-ordered mediator David Mattheisen told a Harris County judge that despite a final session Thursday, "the parties have not been able to resolve the matter. I am therefore declaring our negotiations at an impasse."



It brings an end to a short-lived jump start of talks between the city and fire union to come to an agreement on implementing firefighter raises. The city has said it will implement Prop B and has said firefighters would start getting raises next week.

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At the same time, 205 firefighters received layoff notices last week. Hundreds more received notice of their demotion this week. Both the layoffs and demotions will go into effect July 1, the start of the city's new budget year.



Hours after talks collapsed and the mediator stopped mediating, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the firefighters union traded blame. The mayor said the city went far enough. "The city cannot go beyond what we've offered to do without going bankrupt!"

Minutes later, union president Marty Lancton suggested the mayor didn't want a deal, saying instead, "For the mayor, this is about killing Prop B."

This morning, before the impasse was declared, Lancton sent Mayor Turner and the city council a letter offering to take a 4-year deal to a membership vote within two days if the city met certain conditions. The conditions included:
  • Fully equalized pay rank by rank with Houston police
  • A full release of city financial data detailing base and incentive pays
  • No mass firefighter demotions or layoffs
  • A recognition of Prop B as a lawful representation of the voters' will


The letter from the union ends with a willingness to continue mediation. The conditions attached however have been non-starters with the city in the past.



Without any further talks, it appears the city will move ahead with layoffs and demotions at the end of June. Facing the first mass layoff and demotion in the fire department's history, Chief Sam Pena reminded Houstonians this is about far more than the dollars being fought over.

"All this hate and acrimony has to stop," Pena told reporters at Houston City Hall. "Those numbers have faces and the faces have families."

"I am losing my job," one of those soon-to-be out of work firefighters told ABC13 after talks ended.

The single father of two moved to Houston to be a firefighter. His three years on the job weren't enough to avoid a layoff notice. He got it via email on Tuesday. His last day will be June 30. He has just 15 shifts left.

"I think about that last shift with a rock in my throat," he told ABC13 at the union hall. "I don't know how it will be leaving, turning in my gear, giving my badge to a stranger, but I know all the way up to that moment I will go to work with all the love in the world for the people I work for, and that's the citizens of Houston."

Mayor Turner continues to insist, "The city doesn't want layoffs." In an effort to avoid them, Turner said he agreed to a three-and-a-half year deal, no layoffs for firefighters or cadets, no educational requirements and no demotions.

"What more would you ask for?" Turner asked rhetorically.

Lancton wasted no time answering. "He didn't tell you that we agree to declare Prop B unconstitutional."

Firefighters insist the city and police union wanted the firefighters to agree Prop B was unconstitutional from the start. The union won't. The mayor suggests it was a push from the police union (also a party to the mediation). It is the city's position in court.

In response to the demand, Lancton told reporters, "We will respect the will of voters."

The mayor did offer to let the firefighters' union decide how to divide up the city's pay offer. The mayor's funding block is the same exact dollar figure he offered a month ago Friday, before mediation ever started.

Cutting up a pie that may not be equal to what police officers are paid is not what voters approved.



A court ruling on the constitutionality of Prop B was on hold to allow mediation a chance to work. It is unclear when Harris County Judge Tanya Garrison may rule.

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