Appeals court orders second round of mediation in Proposition B dispute

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A state appeals court June 13 ordered the Houston Professional Firefighters Association and The Houston Police Officers Union along with the city of Houston into a second round of court-ordered mediation aimed at resolving the parties’ dispute over Proposition B.

The voter-approved proposition, which mandates pay parity between Houston police officers and Houston firefighters, has been caught up in legal challenges since shortly after it passed in November 2018.

This is the second time both parties have been ordered to enter mediation since Proposition B was approved. Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a statement in response to the order agreeing to re-enter mediation but expressing preference for collective bargaining negotiations, which he has repeatedly called “the normal course of business.”

“The parties met three different times in mediation with no success,” the statement read. “While the most realistic course to move forward is to proceed with state authorized collective bargaining, which the firefighters requested from the legislature in 2005, the City of Houston will comply with the order to mediate.”

HPFFA President Marty Lancton also issued a statement agreeing to return to mediation.

“While Mayor Sylvester Turner continues to ignore calls to end his political and legal war on Houston firefighters, the court’s order provides another opportunity in mediation for the mayor to finally respect the will of 298,000 Houston voters who said the city should equally value police and fire personnel on a rank-by-rank basis,” Lancton’s statement read. “Our legal team will be prepared for mediation as soon as possible and we again urge the mayor to resume working toward resolving our differences.”

The ongoing legal challenges surrounding Proposition B as well as recent, failed mediation efforts have prevented the city and the HPFFA from agreeing to a labor contract.

On April 18, state District Judge Tanya Garrison, who was overseeing the lawsuit filed by HPOU and the city of Houston against the HPFFA, ordered the parties to enter mediation while she deliberated claims Proposition B violates state collective bargaining law.

The mediation, which took place over the course of three several-hour meetings, ended in an impasse declared May 3. On May 15, Garrison issued a ruling deeming Proposition B unconstitutional, which the HPFFA appealed.

On May 21, the HPFFA requested that the city and HPOU representatives enter into binding arbitration but the request has not been accepted by the city.

Houston City Council voted June 12 to approve the reversal of 220 firefighter layoffs Turner said were no longer necessary to fund Proposition B-mandated pay raises.

The vote brought to light conversations about the legality of $17 million in back pay issued to Houston firefighters in April to comply with the now invalid Proposition B.

Turner said he does not intend to “claw anything back,” although the city is not legally allowed to give “a $17 million gift.” With Proposition B invalidated, the funds need to be allocated in the form of a raise that is agreed to in a contract between the city and the HPFFA, Turner said to City Council members June 12.

Editor’s note: this post has been updated for clarity. 

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.
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