While the city and local unions for firefighters and police officers participate in court-ordered mediation regarding an implementation plan for Proposition B, the Houston City Council voted Wednesday to lay off 220 firefighters as it moves forward with immediate implementation and attempts to balance a bloated budget.
After lengthy debate about the layoffs, the item passed by a vote of 10-6. Shortly after, Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hoped the job cuts could be avoided before they go into effect.
“This administration is committed to doing everything we can to work this out,” he said.
In the court case regarding the legality of Prop B, the voter-approved referendum that grants Houston’s firefighters equal compensation to police officers of similar rank and experience, Judge Tanya Garrison of the 157th Civil District Court issued an order of mediation April 18. The city along with the unions for firefighters and police officers attended two mediation sessions earlier this week without coming to an agreement and plan to resume negotiations next week.
Turner’s office and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association had been attempting to negotiate a phased-in implementation of Prop B, which came without a funding source. According to the city, it would cost upwards of $100 million if implemented immediately.
Time is of the essence for the litigants to settle their differences. If they cannot do so through a mediator, the matter will return to Garrison, who said ruling on the legality of Prop B would continue to be a lengthy process.
Turner has said the city, which must balance its annual budget by the end of June, is in the process of immediately implementing 29 percent pay raises to firefighters. As a result, it already had issued 60-day layoff notices to 67 fire cadets and 47 municipal workers.