The Houston Firefighters Union is suing the City of Houston as their dispute over a new contract drags on. Hundreds of frustrated firefighters also rallied outside City Hall on Wednesday.
The lawsuit accuses the city of breaking a state law that directs cities to pay firefighters on par with what they’d make at a similar private sector job.
On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of vocal Houston firefighters and some family members rallied outside City Hall as the lawsuit was announced.
“The city did not negotiate in good faith, ever,” said Marty Lancton, President of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 341. “Now we have asked the court to reach a sensible agreement that is fair to the citizens and fair to the men and women who serve this city standing behind it.”
Houston firefighters have been working without a contract for three years.
An “evergreen” agreement that filled the gap expires on Friday, but the two sides remain far apart on higher pay and other contract issues.
The city is offering a 9.5% raise over the next three years. Firefighters want at least 17%.
Mayor Sylvester Turner says the city can't give firefighters the 17% raise because city leaders are trying to fix other issues like aging vehicles and equipment on a bare-bones budget.
"If someone tells me how we can do all of these things at the same time, then I'm willing to listen." said Turner.
Firefighters say their current pay is so low they can't afford to live in the city they protect. They say many firefighters have to work second jobs just to make ends meet.
Tommy Lummus, a 20-year Houston Fire Department veteran working at Station 45, estimates the typical firefighter makes around $40,000 per year, but that number can go up or down based on experience.
“Almost every firefighter has to work two jobs,” said Lummus, who said even in a two-income household, it’s still tough to raise three kids in Houston. “I’m ‘Daddy Day Care’ when I’m off. My wife is a Houston Police officer. She works side jobs. She’s working side jobs today.”
Lummus and other firefighters at the rally told KHOU 11 that some of their colleagues make so little money, they’re eligible for food stamps.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, the union accused the city of “playing hardball."
The lawsuit and rally came after City Council members approved an ordinance to allow firefighters’ pay to stay the same until they can agree on a contract.
But the union president says this new ordinance still isn’t a win because they’re losing insurance money.
Firefighters say they’re also taking a hit with the recent pension reform signed into law.
However, Mayor Turner says firefighters had plenty of chances to agree to keep the status quo without the need for a council ordinance but refused.