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Back to mediation

Give it another sixty days. Maybe it’ll be different this time.

A Texas appeals court Thursday ordered the Houston firefighters union and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration back to mediation in the hope the two sides will agree to a new pay contract and sidestep the contentious fight over Proposition B.

The order by the 14th Court of Appeals, which requires the parties to hold talks within 60 days, comes a month after a state district judge declared Prop B unconstitutional, marking the latest twist in a years-long battle between the city and firefighters over pay.

The latest order cranks up pressure on Turner and the firefighters to work together to resolve the issues, said Josh Blackman, an associate professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston.

“Maybe they were hoping the court would bail them out, but the courts aren’t going to assist in this negotiation,” he said. “Why would the court want to get involved in this? It’s such a disaster.”

[…]

State District Judge Tanya Garrison’s ruling that Prop B was unconstitutional changes the dynamics of the negotiations, said Wanda McKee Fowler, a former appellate judge who spent more than 13 years on the 14th Court of Appeals.

“Sometimes it takes more than one mediation for a case to settle,” she said. “There’s benefit in having parties that are going to have a continuing relationship resolve it themselves, rather than have the law to resolve it.”

See here for the background, and here for the court’s order. What this means is that the appeal of the question about whether Prop B is unconstitutional is on hold for the next sixty days. If everyone involved can come to some kind of agreement – remember, the Houston Police Officers Union filed the lawsuit alleging Prop B was illegal, so they are a party to all this as well – then the appeal will be dropped and everyone will go on with their lives. If mediation fails again, then the court gets to decide whether the original ruling that Prop B is illegal was correct. You have to read the order to figure that out (or at least, I had to read it to figure that out), but that’s what this all means.

For that reason, I disagree with Josh Blackmon. This fight isn’t about being bailed out, it’s about who’s right and who’s wrong. Remember, it was the HPOU who filed the lawsuit, in the belief that Prop B would harm them. In a sense, Judge Garrison’s ruling did bail everyone out, in that the city’s financial position improved, no firefighters got laid off, and nothing prevented them from going back to the collective bargaining process. The question at issue here is “Is Prop B legal?” The court’s order is a fancy way of saying “Are you sure you want to ask me that question, or would you rather go off on your own and solve your own problems and leave me out of it?” Frankly, it’s not the court bailing anyone out. From the court’s perspective, they want the litigants to bail them out from having to get involved. KUHF has more.

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7 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Very good assessment of the judge’s ruling, Kuff. I agree 100%.

  2. David fagan says:

    2500 block of Wheeler HFD did their part in extinguishing a fire at a local business, a funeral home. These people performed their service and hopefully a local business will have a chance to continue to contribute to their community. An HFD fire truck caught fire and burned during the response.

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    What a mess. The only thing being ignored is the decision of the voters. That’s why I don’t vote. Your vote doesn’t count.

    The police union got the courts involved. This is in keeping with their philosophy. Everything is a “civil matter,” and they can’t be bothered with it. They can come in 3 or 4 hours to take a report. Try talking to a Houston police officer. They don’t bother with you. By contrast, when you go to the fire station, they are friendly and let you climb on the fire engines, and show you around the station. If you take care of the community, it will take care of you.

  4. Steve Houston says:

    Given court ordered mediation has no means of forcing the parties to do much of anything, I can’t help but wonder if this latest move makes much sense. The first court ruling emboldened the fire union to hold fast and refuse to take anything less than everything they wanted. The second court ruling encouraged the city to put the brakes on increased compensation, but also of the layoffs and demotions. Now all parties are tossed back to a process that has failed in the past.

    13% of city residents voted to give raises the city couldn’t afford without major cuts, the loudest teeth gnashing coming from those who live outside the city limits and/or those just using the whole thing for political benefit. No matter which way the appeals court rules, the other side will find something to whine about, from the political composition of the three judges (2 democrats and a republican) to the timing with relation to the upcoming elections. What’s so wrong with a compromise solution?

  5. Jason Hochman says:

    @Steve, you are right. Mediation is non-binding, and, since they couldn’t come to an agreement before, I don’t see that another round of mediation will help. I’m not sure what you mean about the loudest teeth gnashing comes from those outside the city limits, though.

  6. David Fagan says:

    Some examples of HFD’s important part in the local economy:

    https://mobile.twitter.com/hfdincidents?lang=en

    It is not a complete indication, but the most effective tool I’ve seen.

  7. Steve Houston says:

    David, I prefer: https://cohweb.houstontx.gov/ActiveIncidents/Combined.aspx?agency=F where you can pick from both fire, police, or both but neither of the links provide context.

    Jason, I’m sure you’ll figure it out but at least we agree on the mediation process-maybe they’ll surprise us.