Mayor Whitmire orders negotiations with the firefighters

New regime, new directions.

In a major step toward reconciliation with the firefighters union, Mayor John Whitmire has asked the city attorney to drop an appeal that former Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration filed just days before the change in city leadership.

The city and the union had been embroiled in a bitter pay dispute for most of Turner’s tenure, and the firefighters have been without a contract since 2017. In December 2023, a judge rejected the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit and ordered the two sides to start contract negotiations within a month. The city appealed the judge’s decision on Dec. 29.

Whitmire, who has maintained close ties to firefighters throughout his political career, had been a vocal proponent of the firefighters union during his mayoral campaign. He promised “help is on the way” for firefighters and successfully championed a bill in the Texas Legislature in 2023 that mandates binding arbitration for such disputes. The judge ruled last month that the bill was constitutional but could not be applied retroactively.

On Wednesday morning, Whitmire met with leaders of the firefighters union and ordered City Attorney Arturo Michel to withdraw the recent appeal.

“I want the City to remove itself from the court process as much as possible and focus on resolving this long-standing dispute as fairly and quickly as possible,” Whitmire said in a statement. “I stated repeatedly on the campaign trail and in my inaugural address that our first responders will not have to fear court action during the Whitmire Administration. I am following through on that promise.”


Turner has previously warned of the fiscal consequences of additional pay raises for the firefighters.

“The binding arbitration bill may play well for some politically, but it will not bode well for Houston and its financial future,” Turner said last year of Whitmire’s bill. “At a time when we are trying to eliminate structural financial barriers, this bill imposes another structural barrier.”

See here and here for some background, and here for the Mayor’s press release. I missed the story about the city’s appeal of the previous ruling – the week after Christmas is a beautiful time to temporarily reduce one’s news consumption – which was a strange move since it was never going to be supported by Mayor Whitmire. Be that as it may, this was a campaign promise the Mayor made, and so here we are. I’m sure some agreement will be reached, it’s just a matter of how much it will cost and how Mayor Whitmire will factor that into his plans to shore up the city’s finances. We’ll find out soon enough.

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One Response to Mayor Whitmire orders negotiations with the firefighters

  1. David Fagan says:

    The appeal was one last paycheck to his private law firm. $500,000 approved in August, is that a good way to use tax dollars? Where is it now?

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