Firefighters avoid layoffs

The city and the firefighters’ union reach an agreement on the deadline for sending layoff notices to cut HFD’s budget by $17.7 million but not require any layoffs.

The agreement’s components include program cuts and fees for services that are currently free such as plan checks for new construction. But the largest chunk of the savings comes from deferring rather than cutting spending.

Under the agreement, firefighters who leave the department will no longer get their accrued time off paid in a lump sum but instead spread over four years. In addition, although the mayor’s team guaranteed no firefighter layoffs for fiscal year 2012, the union did not succeed in getting that guarantee extended to 2013.

Nor did it solve the thorniest of issues between the city and the union. The city wants to smooth out vacation scheduling by restricting how many firefighters can take time off during summer and holiday months, when the city pays millions of dollars in overtime to cover the shifts while so many employees are out. The two sides agreed to appoint a joint labor-management committee to work on the issue.

“It’s not a permanent solution, but it is something that will absolutely prevent the immediate layoff of firefighters,” [Mayor Annise] Parker said.

[Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Jeff] Caynon said, “We have accomplished agreement in principle that prevents firefighters from layoffs and preserves our ability to provide service at the level we have today.”

HFD had previously laid off some civilian staff; this agreement was about the firefighters themselves. The agreement still needs to be ratified by Council.

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