Houston’s professional fire fighters have won a crucial victory in the Texas Supreme Court in their six-year contract battle with city officials.
Houston Local 341 has been fighting since 2017 to get outgoing Mayor Sylvester Turner to negotiate a new contract.
The Texas High Court ruled that the City of Houston violated state law by refusing to submit to the legal provisions to resolve its contract dispute with Local 341.
In a separate ruling, the court struck down Proposition B, a voter referendum that required the city to provide equal pay between the city’s police officers and its fire fighters. The court ordered the City of Houston to follow the existing legal process for resolving the impasse, the same process Houston unsuccessfully challenged.
If Turner refuses to negotiate a fair contract, a judge will set the financial terms of Local 341’s contract for a one-year period.
The two rulings involving Houston fire fighters impact all Texas professional fire fighters.
“This is a massive victory not just for Houston’s professional fire fighters, but fire fighters across Texas. We fought this fight against our mayor so other Texas affiliates won’t have to go through the same struggle,” said Local 341 President Patrick “Marty” Lancton.
Turner prolonged the battle with Local 341, deploying a wave of “high-paid” labor attorneys expecting that the fire fighters eventually would blink and accept pay and benefits that are below standard for comparable municipalities, according to Lancton. He noted Turner is the only mayor in Houston history unable to reach a contract agreement with fire fighters.
“When we use our voice at the table, the citizens we serve have a safer city,” said General President Edward Kelly. “A fair contract is not just a win for fire fighters; it’s a win for the very people we took an oath to protect.”
In a related issue, the Texas Legislature is considering a bill to require binding arbitration managed by an independent third party when collective bargaining fails. The bill, sponsored by State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), was approved by the Texas Senate earlier this week.
The bill is designed to prevent a similar stalemate from happening again.
“This is what it looks like to fight for each other,” said Kelly. “You stay in the fight, as long as it takes, because you know your brothers and sisters will be better for it. I commend our Houston local for their efforts, which benefit not only their affiliate but all our members in Texas.”