The Houston City Council has approved an 18% wage increase for the city’s fire fighters to be paid over the next three years. While Houston Local 341 members welcome the additional pay, it’s only a temporary solution to one of the outstanding issues between Local 341 and the City of Houston.
The newly approved wage increase calls for a 6% increase each year for the next three years. However, since the funding is tied to the American Rescue Plan Act (lobbied for by the IAFF) and is subject to the city’s annual budget approval process, the wage increase is only guaranteed for one year.
“The full weight of this IAFF will be behind our Houston brothers and sisters until all issues are resolved and a contract is signed,” says General President Edward Kelly. “All they have asked for from the beginning is fairness. We will not back down until they get it.”
“Let there be no misunderstanding; these are not permanent raises. Let’s call them what they are: temporary bonuses funded with temporary dollars provided by the federal government,” says Local 341 President Marty Lancton. “While grateful for the money, Houston fire fighters and their families want, need and deserve the security that comes with a binding labor contract.”
Texas voters in 2003 approved a referendum granting collective bargaining rights for fire fighters. Until Mayor Sylvester Turner took office in 2016, Houston Local 341 had successfully negotiated contracts with the city.
In 2017, Local 341 and the Turner administration reached an impasse, Local 341 took the matter to court.
Since then, the city has appealed and lost every decision, including the most recent case heard before the 14th Court of Appeals. The mayor – who is termed out and cannot seek reelection – has taken the case to the state Supreme Court as he still refuses to allow Local 341 to bargain over wages and benefits. The decision from this case will be final and cannot be appealed.
“This mayor wants to union bust and take away Local 341’s right to collectively bargain, a right given to Houston Firefighters by city voters nearly 18 years ago,” says General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Líma. “The Local 341 Executive Board and their membership are united. I am proud to fight alongside them for their dignity, respect, and a fair contract.”
Meanwhile, Local 341 is campaigning to add an amendment to the city charter requiring binding arbitration in contract disputes with the city. Through hard work, the local has secured more than 20,000 signatures which is enough to get the issue on the November Ballot. The city secretary is expected to verify the signatures in the coming days.
“Our proposed charter amendment is a fair and cost-effective way to end this four-year dispute with the city,” says Lancton.
While wages are the primary issue (Local 341 members have only had an increase of 3 percent since 2011), there are approximately 40 unresolved issues, many of which are tied to health and safety, not wages and benefits.