The city of Houston and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association reached a tentative agreement to resolve a conflict related to firefighter pay that Houston firefighters have been battling since 2017.

What happened

According to a news release Feb. 29 from Houston Mayor John Whitmire's office, three days after assuming office, Whitmire ordered the city's legal department to end all pending litigation against Houston firefighters and began to initiate negotiations with HPFFA's lawyer to resolve contract issues dating back to 2017.

Whitmire said he intended to reach an agreement between both parties by the end of February.

However, while details of the agreement have not been released yet, Whitmire said both the city and HPFFA made compromises to reach the final agreement.

“A world-class city like Houston deserves a well-funded fire department to attract and retain talented individuals who are willing to risk their safety for us during our times of need," Whitmire said. "Houston’s fire department should be at or near the top among the major cities in our state. This agreement resolves a long-festering pay dispute with firefighters, avoids further unnecessary litigation costs and allows us to move forward together."

The backstory

According to previous Community Impact coverage, Houston firefighters had been working without a contract since 2017 after the city of Houston and HPFFA were unable to reach an agreement in contract negotiations.

The dispute started over the legality of Proposition B, a voter-approved proposition that mandates pay parity between Houston police officers and Houston firefighters. The proposition immediately created legal challenges shortly after it passed in November 2018.

“To say the last eight years have been an unrelenting nightmare for Houston firefighters, their families and Local 341 is an understatement,” HPFFA President Patrick Lancton said. “This accomplishment marks a significant step toward bringing closure and the start of rebuilding a fire department ravished by the inaction of the previous administration. There are no words to express what it means to be able to put the last eight years behind us."

The city and union reached the agreement without binding arbitration, the process by which a third, neutral party forces a solution when the two parties are unable to agree on a contract. Former Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has warned that binding arbitration would come with a large price tag for the city and would negatively affect the city's credit rating.

Stay tuned

According to the news release, a subsequent announcement from the mayor's office is expected to provide more detailed information on the next steps of the process.

"During my campaign, I committed to Houstonians that I would resolve this issue beginning on my first day in office," he said in the release. "I am pleased that we have reached this tentative agreement within the first two months."

Whitmire said he is asking City Council members and all Houstonians to support the arrangement once final details are settled.