A state district judge on Tuesday dissolved a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of the voter-approved charter amendment granting pay parity to Houston firefighters and denied further attempts by the city and police union to delay the measure.
State District Judge Randy Wilson, ruling in favor of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, decided that voters were informed of the amendment’s price tag — more than $100 million a year — before the election and approved it anyway. The measure, appearing on the November ballot as Proposition B, passed with 59 percent of the vote.
“While this Court is sensitive to the budget difficulties the Pay-Parity Amendment will produce, the Houston voters decided they would rather have pay parity,” Wilson wrote.
The latest ruling comes more than two weeks after the HPOU sued the fire union and city over the parity measure, contending the amendment, which would tie firefighter pay to that of police of corresponding rank and experience, is unconstitutional because it conflicts with a provision of state law requiring firefighters to receive comparable pay to that of private sector employees.
Wilson, ruling that the amendment does not conflict with state law, indicated the city had contradicted its argument in a separate case by claiming that no private sector jobs are comparable to those of firefighters.
The lawsuit has been underway since Nov. 30, when the police union filed the suit against the fire union and the city, and [Judge Kristen] Hawkins granted a temporary restraining order.
The city later filed a cross-claim against the fire union, a remedy available to defendants seeking to take legal action against a co-defendant. In its claim, the city argued that the charter amendment “directly conflicts with the collective bargaining process and guidelines for firefighter compensation” laid out in the Texas Local Government Code, and therefore is invalid. Ultimately, the police union and city sought an injuction and stay on the parity amendment.
As the lawsuit has played out, the separate case referenced by Wilson — filed by the fire union against the city after contract talks stalled last year — has reached Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals.
See here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s statement. Neither the HPOU nor the city plans to appeal at this time, so as things stand the city will need to figure out how to move forward with Prop B while the litigation plays out, as was the case with Renew Houston. It’s not going to get any more cordial from here, that much I know.