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Layoffs and demotions

I’m so ready for this to be resolved.

Houston firefighters have started to receive layoff notices amid the implementation of Proposition B, Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said in a statement Wednesday.

Houston City Council voted last week to layoff 220 firefighters to help offset firefighter raises mandated by the voter-approved proposition. The union said the firefighters received the notices via email Tuesday in what Lancton called a “slash-and-burn plan” from Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Lancton also expressed disappointment with Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña over the layoffs.

“We are deeply disappointed that Samuel Peña has become the first fire chief in Houston history to willingly execute mass layoffs and demotions of firefighters,” Lancton said in a statement. “From the city’s founding to the Great Depression, to two world wars and deep downturns of the energy industry, no fire chief had taken this course of action until today. Chief Peña now is alone among all Houston fire chiefs in that dubious distinction.”

Hundreds of HFD personnel also received demotion notices Wednesday, according to a letter provided to Chron.com. The firefighters union estimates upwards of 450 HFD personnel will be demoted.

This all follows a week in which CM Dwight Boykins made some loud claims about Council not being briefed about demotions, only to be smacked down by other Council members and HFD Chief Pena. Meanwhile, mediation is still underway, so the chance remains that all this can be reversed. (Or maybe not.) Pour yourself a drink and sit for awhile.

Also, too: This is the part where I point out that for all of the artillery being aimed at Mayor Turner, I’ve yet to see any suggestion for what alternatives exist to all this. Here are the constraints that must be satisfied:

– Prop B implemented, with the accompanying increase in expenditures by the city.
– No layoffs or demotions.
– The budget must be balanced, as mandated by city charter.
– The city cannot raise any new revenue beyond what is allowed by the revenue cap, which in the past five years has cost the city half a billion dollars via mandated tax cuts.

Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. If you say that’s not your job, that’s the Mayor’s job, I’ll say sure, but we have a couple of Mayoral wannabees who are busy lobbing spitballs about this without offering any of their own ways forward. (Though, in fairness, one of them is busy engaging in silly Twitter fights, so at least he has his priorities straight.)

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12 Comments

  1. Nawfsider says:

    The Mayor could swallow his pride and accept the union’s offer for phase in (source https://m.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Pe-a-plan-would-send-fewer-firefighters-to-small-13656818.php#photo-17008582):

    The union’s Friday offer would phase in parity over three years, beginning with firefighters getting a quarter of the parity-driven raises dating back to July 1, 2018. As of July 1, 2019, members with 18 years of service will would reach full parity with police, and younger members would get another 50 percent of the parity raises to which they are entitled. Members with less than 18 years of service would reach full parity by July 1, 2020.

    That approach would save the city an estimated $120 million, the union wrote, savings that they proposed the city use to build a “Firefighter Wellness Center” on union-owned land. The union also expressed interest in creating a trust to fund retired firefighters’ health care benefits, removing that liability from the city’s books, and discussed negotiating parity in incentive pays, saying that “may represent a further cost savings to the city.”

  2. C.L. says:

    Am I missing something ? Why would the City use $120M of their ‘savings’ (it’s not a savings of anything if it’s just being spent on something else) to build a Firefighter Wellness Center… on land owned by the Union ?

  3. David Fagan says:

    I have been following the posts on this blog for a while now concerning this issue. Along the way there have been omitted aspects to this ongoing prop b story. While Boykins’ meeting is termed a smack down, with no relating comment on the Mayor’s corroborated statements about “giving the firefighters the worst possible deal” by other council members, I have to question this publication’s objectivity. Other omissions include the Mayor’s efforts to collect money from grieving families. My suggestion is, take negotiations with all labor seriously and respectfully. If the mayor did not try to give the firefighters the worst possible deal and try to negotiate in good faith then we probably wouldn’t even be in this situation. After the mayor and other city council persons celebrated the pension deal and slap the mayor on the back like he’s a champion there was no one thanking the people who took the greatest sacrifice in benefits, which were the firefighters. This entire situation has its roots and beginnings in the city’s deferment of payments to the police and municipal pension systems while simultaneously giving them raises. These actions produced an unfunded liability the city was responsible for. Throwing this debt onto the firefighters and reducing firefighter benefits to save the city should not be forgotten. If the people who design the pension system reform did not plan for such a backlash then it’s their own fault. If proposition B throws this city produced debt, like a hot potato, back in the city’s lap, then proposition B is justified. You cannot turn back time, but we elect people into office to exercise some foresight. How do they exercise some foresight now? People should listen to what firefighters have to say because a lot of it I’m sure will come true. The city still doesn’t realize the importance of a negotiated contract, and the city still does not realize the ramifications thereof. What does the future hold? One would be a billionaire to find out, but one thing can be held to be true, this problem is much more than a budgetary one. Abolishing positions and reducing personnel will have an effect that only foresight can warn a person about. When this city finds itself in a paramedic shortage, it will have no means to produce more. When this city finds itself in the eye of the storm, it will have no more personnel to call upon to assist hurricane victims. True mayor has to work within a budget, but the firefighters are tired of taking the short end of the stick. No one can blame firefighters for choosing the Avenue they chose, this country supports peoples’ representation in government when those people feel it is necessary. Firefighters found themselves in a situation where going to the voters was the last and final Ave. to travel. No one, whether you are for or against proposition B, can deny the efforts of the firefighters as being strictly democratic. To go to your fellow man and ask him to vote to change the law is at the root of what it is to be an American.

  4. Jason Mitchell says:

    I would have to agree with the assertions of Mr Fagan that this forum is really good at inciting a one-sided debate. Turner’s back door approach to subverting the will of the people is never questioned, much less even broached. Mediation has now ended with turner again blaming the labor organization for not working with the city to avoid financial ruin. The truth is they did and even compromised once again to do so. What isn’t mentioned is that turner wanted them to disavow the will of the people and publicly declare Prop B as unconstitutional. That was the one and only point of contention. Either offer both sides or none at all.

  5. C.L. says:

    Whomp whomp. HFD shoulda sucked it up, took the beating/loss, etc., and kept their jobs instead of trying to strong arm management into agreeing to their demands. How in the world did you think you were going to win this if the CoH told everyone for roughly 2 years that if it’s implemented, there are going to be lay offs ?

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    When rent seeking goes wrong: The HFD Story.

  7. Steve Houston says:

    “Firefighters also negotiated raises of nearly 34 percent between 2004 to 2010, the city document shows, a period when police got raises totaling 15 percent.”
    (“Fact check: A look at key claims in the firefighter pay ‘parity’ debate” by Houston Chronicle)

    During that same time frame, HFD’s pensions were sharply increased while HPD and the municipal pensions saw drastic cuts akin to the amounts all three of them took in 2017, the pension bonds issued were only to cover some of the under funding two pensions received and NOT address the benefit cuts. This is why everything coming out of HFD’s union starts with “since 2011…”. Whatever claims between the mayor and fire union about raise offers since 2011, neither side seemed very interested in compromise or truly negotiating, only in throwing down gauntlets at each other.

    Per the Mayor’s press conference this morning, it sounds like the two sides hit an impasse over the future of Prop B. The Mayor offered the raises without condition in 3.5 years but wanted Prop B to go away. The union wants Prop B to remain and no demotions. That’s a lot closer to making a deal than they have been so far. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

  8. Bill Kelly says:

    Probably the smartest comment right there. The magic 2011 number is very telling.

  9. Jason Hochman says:

    The mayor wanted to phase in over the 3.5 years, but change from 4 shifts to 3, and for Prop B to go away. Now, I can’t understand why the fire department wanted pay parity with the police department. They are two different jobs, two different agencies. The parity should be with other comparable fire departments around the country. However, they do need to be paid better, and not reduced in numbers. I’ve never lived in a place that has so many structure fires. (Nor open trench drains, frequent power outages, and other primitive features.) The fire department is crucial to our safety, and going into a structure fire is not a risk free proposition, but it is something that the firefighters do in between work outs and cooking a pot of beans at their station.

    also, I am tired of hearing about the revenue cap, because, the city and county raised taxes like crazy. Assessments have gone sky high, with the myth that the swamp land of Houston is very valuable. This in turn causes many of the people in a bungalow or Craftsman house to sell to a developer, which then tears down the house and puts up seven “lofts” on the lot. (Anyone who has been anyplace knows that these things are not “lofts.”) Each of the lofts costs three or four hundred thousand, increasing the tax exponentially. I’m sure that City Hall is in cahoots with the developers, who create impervious ground willy nilly to be sure that there will be floods. So the revenue cap isn’t too relevant. Can’t anyone else see this.

  10. Ross says:

    @Jason, the revenue cap applies to the total City property tax revenues, so an increase in value for one house just redistributes the calculation. The City tax rate has gone down over the last several years to keep revenues under the cap. No one else can see whatever it is you are describing, because it just isn’t there.

  11. Jason Hochman says:

    Ross thanks for explaining. My landlord is always telling me how his taxes are going through the roof, but as you point out, his rate should be dropping as the assessed value rises and all of the new properties enter the tax pool. He’ s always talking about California and Proposition 13. Also a few of my neighbors left because they didn’t want to pay the tax.

  12. C.L. says:

    Hey you kids, get off my lawn !

    -Jason