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At an impasse

Doesn’t look like there will be any new collective bargaining agreement between the city and the firefighters this year.

Houston’s firefighters union declared an impasse with the city over a new labor contract, which a union negotiator called a “slap in the face” on Thursday.

The deadlock comes less than a month after Mayor Annise Parker announced the union was coming back to the bargaining table despite overwhelmingly defeating the city’s last proposal.

That rejected contract would have given the firefighters a 4 percent raise starting in 2015 but limited when they could take time off. City officials came back Thursday with essentially the same offer, but dropped the 4 percent raise to 3 percent. That’s likely because council members amended Parker’s budget, which set aside money for the proposed contract and effectively “spent the raise.”

“So now I’m looking at a 3 percent offer that reduces the cap on holidays, reduces the cap on vacations and I’m not supposed to take that, or have these members take that, as, in essence, a slap in the face,” union negotiator Michelle Bohreer said.

[...]

The city has looked to scale back overtime costs, which earlier this year almost drove the department over budget. During the budget crisis, HFD had to pull ambulances and engines from duty some days to keep costs down.

A March contract temporarily resolved that problem, with firefighters agreeing to give up some freedom to take time off in exchange for a 2 percent raise and a $975 lump-sum payment. Those scheduling restrictions expired at the end of June.

See here, here, here, and here for the background; Mayor Parker’s statement is here. The city has a legitimate interest in managing vacation time and overtime pay, as any private sector business would have. By the same token, I understand why the firefighters would be reluctant to give up something that they now have. Given the current budget situation and the overwhelming rejection of the first agreement, I have no idea how much room there is to negotiate at this point. The one thing I am sure of is that all this will be a prominent feature in the 2015 Mayoral race. It will be very interesting to see which candidates stake out which positions.

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One Comment

  1. Steven Houston says:

    I was told how the initial offered “raise” would have cost them more in terms of a giveback of overtime and the like so I think Parker found the one way to increase the vote against the contract from 93%, the highest numerical rejection of a contract offer in the history of the city. And any reduction in the amount of time they take off is just going to accumulate for them to receive when they retire so it really isn’t a savings for the city in the long term either.

    Imagine what’s going to happen next year when programmed budget crunch hits and the police contract is up for re-negotiation, that department also one of the lowest paid big city departments in the country (one that even gave up hundreds of millions in pension reductions). The fur is going to fly…

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