Price tag for firefighter back pay revealed

From the inbox:

Mayor John Whitmire and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association announced today a historic deal to end an eight-year impasse. The $650 million settlement to finally resolve the city’s looming liability addresses longstanding pay issues dating back to 2017 while also ensuring a five-year contract moving forward.

“I told the voters I would honor their decision to put public safety first and treat our brave paramedics and firefighters in the fair and equitable manner they deserve. I am proud to deliver on that promise,” said Mayor John Whitmire. “An agreement of this nature is absolutely necessary to recruit and retain firefighters in the quality and numbers needed to serve the largest city in Texas. I want to reiterate that it helps avoid further unnecessary litigation costs, the uncertainty of multiple decisions by a court or an arbitration panel, and allows us to move forward together.

The decision ensures fiscal responsibility while prioritizing fair compensation for vital public safety personnel. Judgment bonds, issued by the City of Houston, will cover the back pay owed to firefighters for the eight years they worked without a contract. This approach rectifies past grievances and safeguards the City’s financial stability by ensuring budgetary capacity for a new five-year contract with the competitive wages essential for firefighter recruitment and retention.

Per the settlement terms, all current firefighters, retired firefighters, and the families of firefighters who have died since 2017 will receive lump sum payments for the wages owed back to 2017. In addition to the back pay, the agreement makes permanent the temporary 18% pay increases awarded to firefighters in 2021 and mandates additional raises of 10% on July 1, 2024. With the subsequent pay hikes specified through 2029, total firefighter pay will increase by up to 34% over the life of the contract.

“This agreement is like none other we have ever seen, or perhaps will ever see and the best for the City to recruit and retain the necessary numbers for the quality fire department Houstonians deserve” said HPFFA President Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton. “It shows the impact of Mayor John Whitmire’s leadership and cooperation. The victory belongs to every Houston firefighter who has sacrificed for the last eight years. Let us remember the challenges we’ve overcome and the unity that has brought us to this resolution. Today, we stand on the brink of a new chapter that honors our hard work and dedication and ensures a brighter future for all of our brothers and sisters and their families.”

Firefighters will retain all existing benefits while gaining access to new incentives, assignment bonuses, holiday pay, and increased uniform allowances. The City and HPFFA agreed to new incentives to improve recruitment and retention of firefighters that is greatly needed. The contract also includes new provisions to facilitate the transfer of firefighters from other area departments, making the Houston Fire Department an attractive destination for top talent once again.

The agreement’s design carefully avoids the potential for costly budget ramifications and legal fees and expenses, which have been reported in the media and by third parties to be in the hundreds of millions and would spiral in the future.

This coming Monday, lawyers for the City and HPFFA will outline a proposed settlement and judgment for the judge overseeing the legal dispute.

See here for some background. The Chron story adds some words of concern from a former budget director who notes that there’s no fiscal plan attached to this. I’m sure one will follow, if nothing else City Council will need to know what it is. Look, I’m happy for the firefighters, who worked a long time for this, but the budget reality is what it is. I have no idea how Mayor Whitmire is going to make the math work. That’s his problem, but the effects of those decisions will be felt by all of us.

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