The city of Houston will begin issuing 400 to 500 layoff notices for firefighters and municipal workers in April, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
The proposed layoffs, which have driven a divide between the Mayor Turner and the Houston Firefighter’s Union in recent months, could still be rendered void if Proposition B—the voter-approved referendum requiring across-the-board pay raises for the department—is rendered unconstitutional under state law.
“We have to give them 60 days [notice], so in early April we’ll start to give out notice, and then we’ll see how many we need to lay off,” Turner said.
On April 18, 157th District Judge Tanya Garrison will preside over a hearing over the city’s request for a summary judgment on the question of whether existing collective bargaining laws pre-empt Proposition B.
After using the city’s fund balance to fund pay raises for for Fiscal Year 2019, the mayor’s office proposed a five-year phase in plan to avoid layoffs, Turner said.
“It’s all about dollars and cents,” he said. “It’s about trying to balance the budget.”
Houston Firefighters Union Local 341 President Marty Lancton said he has never seen the proposal from Mayor Turner’s office.
“The mayor’s claims today are false,” Lancton said in a news release issued Mar. 18. “Like his ever-changing costs for implementing Proposition B, the mayor’s slash-and-burn plan for the Houston Fire Department is smoke and mirrors.”
A city spokesperson however said the city attorney sent the 5-year phase in proposal last month, and Community Impact Newspaper‘s media partner ABC13 has published copies of a document that purportedly shows five years of raises to base pay, but not incentives, that were shared with the union’s legal team.
Should the need for layoffs persist, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said his proposed plan to move the entire department to a new shift schedule would help limit a reduction in service to the city, although service would be reduced.
Pena said reducing 378 firefighters on a four-shift model will mean 25 fire apparatus or 94 firefighters out of service per day, whereas the same reduction would result in about 11 to 13 apparatus out per day under a shift change.
“I think it makes even more sense to go to a different shift pattern in light of this,” Pena said.
When responding the shift-change proposal last week, Lancton said he could not support a plan that allows for any reduction in service.
“It puts the city at risk,” he said.