Members of the 14th court of appeals ruled in favor of the fire union in a case that originated when the city and the union failed to reach an agreement on a labor contract in 2017. After failed attempts at mediation, the fire union sued the city of Houston alleging that it neglected to negotiate in good faith and the city responded by alleging that some of the terms under which the two parties were required to negotiate, which are set by state law, are unconstitutional.
In the decision handed down by the appeals court May 6, the court disagreed with the city’s stance and required it to pay the legal fees incurred by the union.
“We are grateful for this ruling. It should be a signal for the mayor to end the vindictive, taxpayer-funded legal campaign against Houston firefighters and our families,” said HPFFA President Marty Lancton in a news release. “This ruling provides the city with an opportunity to reverse course and resolve our disputes.”
Union representatives from the Texas and Gulf Coast American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations also celebrated the decision as a win for labor relations in the state.
The terms at question in the lawsuit are two provisions within the state local government code which require local officials to ensure police or firefighter wages are comparable to a private sector employee with a similar position. If the city and a union reach an impasse and either refuse to enter binding arbitration, the court must determine what a comparable pay rate should be for up to one year, according to state code.
“We also ask the city to abandon a dangerous legal strategy that is at odds with Houstonians’ support at the polls for firefighters and jeopardizes the ability of all First Responders in Texas to speak up together for better working conditions,” said Texas AFL-CIO president Rick Levy in a news release.
In response, a statement from the mayor’s office indicated that the city may appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.
“The City respectfully disagrees with today’s opinion that lets a trial court decide pay and benefits under a comparable pay standard never negotiated between the parties,” a statement from Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office read. “The City is evaluating its options and will decide in due time whether to ask the Texas Supreme Court to address this matter or present evidence to the trial court in support of just, fair, and affordable compensation to Houston’s Fire Fighters. The City has continually been, and remains, committed to negotiating in good faith with the Union.”
The collective bargaining lawsuit is not the only legal challenge between the two parties. In 2018, the firefighters union successfully passed a ballot initiative known as Proposition B that required the city pay firefighters and police officers of equal rank the same pay. The city’s legal challenge to the proposition is still awaiting a ruling from the 14th Court of Appeals.