Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed into law a bill mandating binding arbitration, managed by an independent third party, when collective bargaining between Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association (HPFFA) Local 341 and the City of Houston fails.
The law marks a crucial victory for Local 341 members who have been tirelessly negotiating with the City of Houston for a new contract for more than six years.
The legislation (S.B. 736), sponsored by State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) and State Rep. Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston), took effect immediately following the Governor’s signature.
Local 341 has issued an urgent letter to the City of Houston requesting the immediate resumption of stalled contract negotiations spanning 2018 to the present.
“This signifies a new era of recognition for the brave men and women of the Houston Fire Department who have been ignored and disrespected by the current city administration,” said President Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton. “We are grateful for the support of Governor Abbott, Senator Whitmire, Representative Perez, and the entire Texas Legislature. The overwhelming bipartisan support this bill received at every step of the legislative process is an acknowledgment of the dedication and sacrifice of our firefighting heroes who are there for us through floods, hurricanes, and the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Houston fire fighters have been suffering severe understaffing and diminished morale due to the years-long contract stalemate. The bill requires the appointment of three arbitrators – one appointee selected by the fire fighters, one chosen by the City, and one mutually agreed upon by both parties. This gives Houston fire fighters a much stronger voice and signals an end to the labor impasse is in sight.
The statehouse win comes on the heels of a related victory for Houston fire fighters in April. The Texas Supreme 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.
The Houston affiliate has been in a protracted battle with outgoing Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has deployed 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. Turner is the only mayor in Houston’s history unable to reach a contract agreement with fire fighters.
The two sponsors of S.B. 736 hailed its enactment.
“With overwhelming, bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House and now the Governor’s signature, this new law will ensure that our dedicated Houston fire fighters are no longer ignored,” said Whitmire.
“Fire fighters put their lives on the line every day to protect us through hurricanes, floods, pandemics, and freezes,” added Perez. “They are vital to the safety and security of the community they serve and always answer the call. They have waited long enough for a contract, and I am so proud to have been a part of Senate Bill 736.”