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City appeals firefighter collective bargaining case to Supreme Court

Here we go.

The city of Houston on Monday asked the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on a recent appellate court ruling that rejected Mayor Sylvester Turner’s attempt to strike down a key provision of state law governing how firefighters negotiate their wages and benefits.

The case stems from a 2017 lawsuit filed by the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, which claims Turner’s administration did not negotiate in good faith during failed contract talks between the city and fire union that year.

As part of that lawsuit, the firefighters invoked a provision of state law that allows a state district judge to set their pay after Turner declined to enter contract arbitration. The city responded by arguing it was unconstitutional for judges to determine the pay of firefighters and police officers without firmer guidelines for doing so.

In an appeal filed Monday, attorneys representing the city asked Texas’ highest civil court to reverse a ruling last month by Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals, in which a panel of justices found the provision challenged by the city does not run afoul of the Texas Constitution’s separation of powers clause, which prohibits one branch of government — the judiciary, in this case — from exercising power that belongs to another branch.

Under state law, public employers must provide firefighters and police officers with “compensation and other conditions of employment” that are “substantially the same” as those of “comparable private sector employment.”

In the Supreme Court filing, the city contended that provision does not provide specific enough guidelines for courts to determine firefighter pay, an argument that was rejected by the appeals court in May. Still, city attorneys wrote in the latest filing that the law governing police and firefighter compensation has “existed under a legal cloud with respect to the unconstitutional delegation of legislative power accomplished by this judicial enforcement mechanism.”

See here and here for the background. This is too technical for me to have an opinion about the merits, but as I said before it would not have bothered me if the city had accepted the ruling and gone ahead with the judge setting the firefighters’ pay. I recognize that the downside risk of this for the city is getting a number they would not like, and if nothing else the appeal buys them some time. We’ll see how long it takes SCOTX to handle this.

One more thing:

Meanwhile, firefighters are collecting signatures for a charter amendment that would make it easier to bring contract talks with the city to binding arbitration. Union officials say they are aiming to place the measure on this year’s November ballot.

Insert your favorite GIF of someone shrugging their shoulders here.

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14 Comments

  1. David Fagan says:

    88 days and counting…….

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    Turner has a great track record of ignoring public safety and racially segregation housing.

  3. David Fagan says:

    87 days and counting…….

  4. David Fagan says:

    86 days and counting…….

  5. David Fagan says:

    84 days and counting…….

  6. C.L. says:

    Yawn…

  7. David Fagan says:

    83 days and counting…….

  8. David Fagan says:

    82 days and counting…….

  9. Kibitzer says:

    THE DEEP [RED] BENCH & APPELLATE BAR

    The City of Houston is in the *TEXAS* Supreme Court, which currently has 8 Republicans, with 1 one the way to fill the seat recently abandoned by Eva Guzman.

    Case docket here:

    https://search.txcourts.gov/Case.aspx?cn=21-0518&coa=cossup (one petition covering both COA appeals, which were disposed of in a single opinion for both cases).

    The outcome is not a foregoing conclusion because the SCOTX neither likes cities ruled by Democrats, nor labor/collective bargaining rights. Guzman has since made it clear that she always support law enforcement (she is married to a retired HPD officer), but since she has quit, she is no longer in a position to extend the law-enforcement preference to fire-fighters, or back the city to put them discontented public servants in their place.

    COH has hired a former Republican COA Justice to do its bidding in the high court.
    His lawfirm is ALEXANDER DUBOSE & JEFFERSON LLP. One of the name partners is the previous Chief Justice of the SCOTX. Also a Republican, of course.

    Adjtlaw selling point: “Our deep bench of former judges and prominent appellate attorneys translates into scope and breadth, substantial knowledge of the law and unparalleled familiarity with Texas appellate courts.”

    Ex-SCOTX justice Paul Green went there too, though he is not on the petition in Tex. No. 21-0518.

    So, given the lineup, you can at least expect that the SCOTX will request a response. It only takes one vote to remove a petition from the metaphorical conveyor belt that takes the run-of-the-mill filing straight to the trash bin with all deliberate speed in 30 days.

  10. David Fagan says:

    81 days and counting…….

  11. David Fagan says:

    80 days and counting…….

  12. john says:

    80 days until what?

  13. David Fagan says:

    79 days and counting…….