The Houston Professional Firefighters Association recently submitted a petition for an equal pay measure to appear on the November ballot.
Complete with more than 32,000 validated signatures, the petition seeks to have firefighters’ pay at equal levels to police officers’ pay at each rank.
Through help of the firefighters’ union, volunteers gathered the signatures in just under a week, pointing to the overwhelming response as a good measure of the level of support they believe exists for the measure to make the ballot.
Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton, president of the firefighters’ union, claimed the petition drive was needed to get the attention of city officials and said firefighters are at their “breaking point” over low wages, poor working conditions and job losses.
“Our fleet and facilities are declining,” said Lancton. “Our wages, benefits and working conditions are no longer competitive. We are losing firefighters to other departments. We are now asking the voters to ask Houston firefighters because the city refuses to do so.”
In response to the petition, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement the firefighters “deserve a pay raise.” However, he also said the union and the city are too far apart with the amounts of the proposed raise.
He called the petition “ill-defined” and said it made “simplistic assumptions.” He further said the union’s demands will “financially cripple the city” if a tax increase or revenue cap removal can not be arranged.
The union initially demanded a 21 percent raise, but, when it was refused, they rolled back their demands to a 17 percent raise.
The city countered with a 9.5 percent raise, pointing to problems with even a modest raise straining the city’s resources, potentially leading to layoffs in other departments.
The union ultimately refused the smaller raise, though, and instead launched the petition drive.
Turner also refuted the idea of having firefighters’ pay on par with police officers’ compensation:
“…their structures and benefits are very different. The number of days they work per month, command staff, overtime pay and benefits are not the same and have differed over the last 15 years.”