The union representing Houston Firefighters has successfully collected enough signatures on a petition to propose a charter amendment that would change the way its leadership negotiates labor contracts with the city of Houston.

“We would not have gotten to this point without the support of Houston voters,” Houston Professional Firefighters Association president Marty Lancton said.

The charter amendment petition lobbied by the firefighters union proposes a requirement that the parties enter binding arbitration. In this case, both parties present proposals to an arbitration board, which has the final say on the terms of the contract. In this process, both parties are legally required to come to an agreement, according to Texas Local Government code.

Currently, in the event of an impasse, the mayor and the fire union’s president are required to engage in mediation, according to the city charter. In this process, a mediator assists in the labor contract negotiations, but both parties can leave the process without reaching an agreement. The firefighters have gone without a new contract after negotiations broke down in 2017.

“This is a fair and safe way to resolve contract issues,” Lancton said. “We have been in a taxpayer-funded legal battle for four years.”

For voters to see the proposal on the November ballot, the city secretary must verify the 20,000 signatures and the city council must approve the verification by August 16, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. The signatures have not yet been verified.

A second charter amendment

Leaders of the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition announced July 2 that they collected “roughly 40,000” signatures to place their proposal on the ballot for a citywide vote in November. The minimum number of signatures required for an item to reach the ballot is 20,000, according to the city charter.

The proposal, if approved by voters, would amend the city’s charter to place more power in the hands of individual City Council members. As the charter is written now, the city operates under a “strong mayor” form of local government. This means that only the mayor can place items on the council agenda for the council’s consideration. The charter amendment would give all 16 council members the authority to place items on the agenda for a vote as long as the items have the backing of at least two other council members.

The effort is backed by groups ranging from the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America to the Harris County Young Republicans.