Mayor Turner offers 18% raise to firefighters using federal stimulus funds

firefighter protest
Mayor Sylvester Turner May 19 offered an 18% raise over the next three years for Houston Firefighters representing another development in years of legal battles between the city and the firefighters union. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Mayor Sylvester Turner May 19 offered an 18% raise over the next three years for Houston Firefighters representing another development in years of legal battles between the city and the firefighters union. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Mayor Sylvester Turner May 19 offered an 18% raise over the next three years for Houston Firefighters, representing another development in years of legal battles between the city and the firefighters union.

Union President Marty Lancton, however, said the proposal is “not even close” to resolving the issues between the Houston Professional Firefighters Association and the mayor. He also claimed he was not consulted by the mayor prior to the announcement which he referred to as a bonus rather than a raise.

“When you don’t have specifics in a contract to know where you’re supposed to be, the law states what the firefighter’s rights are,” Lancton said. “The mayor apparently believes he doesn’t have to follow the law. ... We have a legal process, and he’s not following it.”

The raises, which will bring firefighters’ pay to $21.35 per hour are based on comparisons between Houston and other major Texas cities including Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio, Turner said.

Beginning July 1, 6% raises will be distributed over the next three years. Totaling over $115 million, the raises will be funded by the city’s allocation of over $600 million in federal funds provided through the American Rescue Act.


In 2017, the city and the union failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement, which is the legal process for determining a labor contract for the fire department’s employees. As a result, firefighters have gone without raises for over five years. The collective bargaining process would also set other provisions in the contract, such as health and retirement benefits.

The mayor announcing a series of raises over the next three years does not replace the need for both parties to negotiate a contract, said Richard Carlson, a professor at South Texas College of Law, who specializes in collective bargaining law.

“The mayor can’t simply say, 'We're going to solve a problem because we're going to use these funds, and that's the end of it,'” Carlson said.

In the terms of a new contract, Lancton said he and the city need to agree on back pay owed to the firefighters since the dispute began.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña defended the decision saying, in the absence of an agreement, the raises put more money into the pockets of firefighters sooner than waiting on both parties to reach an agreement.

“We did the same in 2017 after the expiration of the contract; we implemented an ordinance that maintains a pay rate rather than falling back to whatever state law may require,” Peña said.

Two lawsuits related to the disputes could also upend the mayor’s plans. The first relates to the fire union’s attempt to secure raises comparable to police pay rates through a citywide vote known as Proposition B. Although a district court ruled their attempt unconstitutional, the union appealed the case and is awaiting another ruling. If the union is successful, a new legal decision could require a new pay rate for the firefighters.

Separately, a 2017 lawsuit was settled on May 6, that upheld a provision within state collective bargaining law that states a court can determine pay rates if both parties reach an impasse. The city argued that the provision was unconstitutional and represented an overreach of the court system’s powers, but the provision was upheld. Turner said he has not yet decided if the city will appeal the ruling. If the city does not, the courts could also step in and set a different pay rate.

“It's still a little bit risky because you could say, ‘Well, you know, I'm not going to agree to your terms. We've reached an impasse. We don't have an agreement. So let's let an arbitrator or a judge decide for us,’” Carlson said. “But you don't know what the arbitrator or the judge is going to come up with. It could be in your favor but it's a little bit like going to Las Vegas.”

editor's note: this post has been updated to correct the total raise cost.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


MOST RECENT

The budget amendment came after an hour-long debate over how far the district could dip into its reserve funding to cover the raise. (Community Impact staff)
HISD approves $2,500 pay raise for teachers with another bump possibly coming in August

The budget amendment came after an hour-long debate over how far the district could dip into its reserve funding to cover the raise.

Taco Bueno sells tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos and more unique items, including the Muchaco, a taco made with a soft pita-like shell. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Taco Bueno coming to Katy and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

The property at 7620 Washington Ave.—formerly a brick and construction material supply business—includes a 12,595-square-foot showroom and a 19,250-square-foot warehouse. (Courtesy Henry S. Miller Companies)
Grubbs Automotive leases space on Washington Avenue with plans for Volvo dealership

The property at 7620 Washington Ave.—formerly a brick and construction material supply business—includes a 12,595-square-foot showroom and a 19,250-square-foot warehouse.

The new location of FM Kitchen & Bar, slated to open later in June, will offer a selection of signature and classic cocktails, including the cosmopolitan. (Courtesy FM Kitchen & Bar)
FM Kitchen & Bar to open second location on Westheimer Road and 4 other restaurant announcements around Montrose, the Heights

A slate of new bars and restaurants has been announced for the area, and several others opened earlier this month.

Intuitive Machines is based in Clear Lake. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Intuitive Machines expanding in Houston Spaceport

Houston officials have announced yet another development coming to the Houston Spaceport.

Economist Elliot Eisenberg spoke about the economic recovery post-pandemic, saying this year's GDP growth will be the best since the 1950s. (Brooke Ontiveros/Community Impact Newspaper)
Economist explains housing demand, price booms in Texas, Greater Houston area

Eisenberg explained why home prices are rising at a June 9 Greater Houston Builders Association luncheon.

I-45 Houston
Houston extends pilot period for freeway crash towing program

A pilot program that aims to reduce wait times for towing after freeway accidents got an extension June 9.

Volunteers at Kids Meals Inc. in the Garden Oaks area help put together meals and grocery bags for families in need. (Courtesy Kids Meals Inc.)
Kids Meals Inc. launches capital campaign to build new facility, cater to increasing demand

The Garden Oaks-based nonprofit more than doubled the number of children it served per day during the coronavirus pandemic, and officials are looking to boost those numbers even higher.

Officials with the Harris County Justice Administration Department said they identified racial disparities in citations and use of force by law enforcement, among other areas. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County identifies racial disparities in use of force, citations from law enforcement agencies

Analysis in the report included racial demographics in instances of consent search, contraband discovery, traffic stops that led to arrests, types of citations or warnings, and use of force.

Single-family home sales in the Houston area surged 48.2% percent compared to May 2020, when real estate was in the process of recovering from coronavirus-related lockdowns. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Houston-area home sales in May up nearly 50% versus last year

Single-family home sales were up 48.2% compared to a year ago, with 9,702 units sold versus 6,546 a year earlier.

Mixed media portrait artist highlights health care workers

Kristin Nelson was inspired by her sister-in-law and her neighbor, both nurses, who had previously sent her selfies of them decked out in PPE.