Houston Local 341’s long battle over fair pay is ending in victory

January 11 • 2024

Houston fire fighters proudly supported Whitmire’s bid for mayor.

Newly elected Houston Mayor John Whitmire wasted no time honoring his campaign promise to Local 341 members, ordering the city attorney to end all legal action that sought to block fire fighters from receiving back pay dating back to 2017. 

“Mayor Whitmire was with us during his many years as state senator and he has proven very quickly that he is still with us as mayor,” Local 341 President Marty Lancton said. “After eight years of bitter labor/management relations, we are finally headed in the right direction. It is hard to express how much it means to us and our families to have a leader who respects us and will follow through on what he says.” 

Not only did Mayor Whitmire stop all litigation just three days into office, but he also directed the attorneys for the city and Local 341 to meet regularly until an agreement on back pay is reached. While the exact amount owed is not yet known, it is expected to be in the millions of dollars as there are more than 3,600 fire fighters who are owed nearly seven years of back pay. 

“You don’t sue first responders in the John Whitmire Administration; you take care of them,” Whitmire said in a statement. “And that is why the city must remove itself from the court process and focus on resolving this long-standing dispute as fairly and quickly as possible.” 

Houston fire fighters have been without a contract since 2017, when negotiations with then-Mayor Sylvester Turner hit an impasse.

Turner spent the following years fighting Local 341 in court, hoping the union eventually would yield and accept pay and benefits far below the standard for comparable municipalities.

Houston Local 341 members on the campaign trail for Whitmire

The former mayor’s refusal to agree to fair compensation had far-reaching effects. The department morale sank to an all-time low, as evidenced by 500 fire fighters leaving for other, better-paying fire departments.  

The litigation eventually made it to the state Supreme Court last March. The high court ruled in favor of Local 341, saying the city violated state law by refusing to resolve its contract dispute with the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.  

The Texas State Legislature handed Local 341 another victory in June, mandating binding third-party arbitration when collective bargaining between Local 341 and the city fails.   

The legislation was cosponsored by then State Senator Whitmire in one of his last acts as a state legislator before being elected mayor.   

Despite the high court ruling and the new law, the former mayor spent his final days in office fighting the fire fighters in court. 

In a state district court case, Turner challenged the constitutionality of the newly passed binding arbitration law. The judge in the case denied the former mayor’s challenge, stating the city must return to negotiations. 

But now, with Whitmire in office, all litigation has ceased, and an amicable resolution is forthcoming. 

“This victory is a testimony to the leadership of the Houston fire fighters, who never cowered in the face of bullying from former Mayor Turner. It is also testimony to the Brothers and Sisters of Local 341 who stuck together and let righteousness be their true north,” General President Edward Kelly said. “When we fight, we win. Houston Firefighters Local 341 fought and won.”