Hundreds of Houston, TX Local 341 members received unprecedented layoff and demotion notices in May as Mayor Sylvester Turner continued his political and legal attacks on fire fighters and their families.
The retaliatory layoffs and demotions follow Local 341’s decisive victory in last November’s elections as voters overwhelmingly approved Prop B, a citizen petition measure granting Houston’s fire fighters pay parity with city police officers. Since 2011, Houston police have received 37 percent raises while Houston fire fighters received only 3 percent. Voters approved pay parity in a 59-41 percent vote.
The IAFF has had the backs of Local 341 members from the onset of this battle in 2016.
“We have been in this fight from the very first day that rotten mayor turned his back on our Houston local,” says 11th District Vice President Sandy McGhee. “We’ve been there for the rallies and marches. We’ve been there with data, research and significant financial resources, and we’ll be there to assist our local to the very end of this battle and beyond.”
In the months leading into the fall election, the IAFF supported Local 341’s efforts to pass Prop B, providing media and public relations assistance and contributing FIREPAC dollars.
“Houston’s fire fighters risk their lives for the citizens of their city every day, and have earned the right to ask for competitive pay without having to face political retribution,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “It’s time for Mayor Turner to stop neglecting our Houston members and do what is right for public safety.”
In the six months since the election, Turner has spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds for outside lawyers in a legal campaign to reverse Prop B in defiance of 298,000 Houston voters — nearly three times the number of voters who elected him mayor in 2015.
Houston Local 341 President Marty Lancton says, “Our members are grateful for the support of Prop B voters and the people we serve in our city, and to IAFF members everywhere. In 2015, fire fighters canvassed 75,000 homes for this mayor, and he won by 4,000 votes. This time, he may regret turning his back on Prop B voters. We have a long fight ahead, but we will continue to deliver excellent service to the citizens and do what’s right in the meantime.”
In addition to the legal attacks, Turner threatened layoffs, refused to meet with Local 341 and, while claiming to implement Prop B, still refuses to disclose whether, when and how he will respect the will of the voters and fully implement pay parity.
Turner teamed up with the Houston police officer union to file a lawsuit to block Prop B’s implementation, winning a temporary injunction. Local 341 responded, and one week later, a judge ruled in favor of Local 341, throwing out the injunction. Local 341 is awaiting several court rulings that will affect the direction of Prop B.
Turner has also used Houston’s latest fire recruit class as political hostages. Citing an ever-changing cost to implement Prop B, he refused to swear in dozens of recruits, keeping them classified as municipal employees and not public safety employees. Prior to the layoffs, they were in limbo at the training academy, tasked with manual labor, such as raking leaves, rolling hose, digging holes, pouring concrete and chopping wood.
The mayor recently announced a so-called city hiring freeze, but the city has since hired hundreds of police and municipal employees, while announcing 220 fire fighter layoffs and 454 demotions.
In recent months, the IAFF has urged other national unions to stand in solidarity with Local 341. The Communications Workers of America and the American Federation of Teachers have strongly supported Local 341, providing a solid threat to Turner’s re-election efforts.
And in March, after a full-court press from the IAFF, the Democratic National Committee determined that Turner’s vindictive treatment of Local 341 was a factor in awarding the 2020 Democratic National Convention to Milwaukee, delivering another shot at Turner’s re-electability.
The IAFF continues to be engaged with Local 341 and stands ready to provide assistance in the months ahead as the local looks to unseat the incumbent mayor this fall.