Hundreds of Houston Fire Department firefighters, retirees and family members marched on City Hall Tuesday, protesting impending layoffs within the department.
“The mayor and too many of his council members are waging a political war against firefighters and their families,” Houston Firefighters Union Local 341 President Marty Lancton said.
The proposed layoffs, which have driven a divide between Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston Firefighter’s Union in recent months, could go out as soon as early April, Turner said Monday.
Speaking before the rally, which ended at the steps of City Hall, Council Member Dwight Boykins said he has three amendments to prevent any layoffs within the department that he will propose Wednesday.
“Don’t think you’re in it alone,” Boykins said. “I’m laying on this knife with you and we’re going to get this thing done.”
The amendments include three different options for added solid waste and recycling fees ranging from $19 to $27 to serve as a new revenue stream for the city.
“Once the fee has been implemented, it will be used to offset the current use of General Fund
dollars to fund the Solid Waste Department, and the unsnarled General Fund revenue will be
utilized to fund Proposition B pay parity and prevent the need for firing firefighters and municipal
Employees,” the amendments state.
Additional speakers included representatives from the Houston Black Fire Fighters Association and The Houston Federation of Teachers.
A potential change to the Fire Department’s shift schedule proposed by Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena drew criticism from Delance Shaw, President of HBFFA. The department adopted its current schedule over 20 years ago in response to a federal consent decree as a way to provide more opportunities for minority firefighters to earn promotions.
“We need to make this clear, this is not the white firefighters,” Boykins said. “This is the Houston firefighters.”
Lancton summarized the union’s requests in five points.
“Respect the voters, fully implement Prop B., stop playing games with public safety, drop the legal claims against collective bargaining, rebuild the greatest fire department in the world, the Houston Fire Department, and rebuild it to national safety standards,” Lancton 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. The status of both the raises and layoffs depend on whether or not Garrison deems the proposition constitutional.