HOUSTON—Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association (HPFFA) President Bryan Sky-Eagle announced with Mayor Annise Parker Monday morning a tentative agreement on an interim contract that will avoid the brown-outs of fire apparatus proposed earlier to solve an $8.5 million overtime shortfall at the Houston Fire Department.
“I want to thank the union for working with us to help find a solution for this situation,” said Mayor Parker. “This is an example of what can happen when both sides are willing to negotiate in good faith. Through productive give-and-take we were able to develop a short-term agreement that will be beneficial to the rank and file while also allowing us to deal with the overtime issue and avoid the need for idling any of our fire trucks.”
The interim pact, which still needs to be voted on by City Council and the union membership, calls for elimination of guaranteed holidays through June 30, 2014 and other changes designed to control overtime costs going forward. In addition, based on a Fiscal Year 2014 wage reopener clause in the existing 2011 contract, firefighters will receive a two-percent across-the-board pay increase and a one-time uniform allowance with a total value of $3.64 million. The city is agreeing to keep all fire trucks in service, provided that the two-week average of unscheduled absences does not exceed 35 members per day. Should this two-week average be exceeded, the city reserves the right to remove units from service. Daily staffing levels will also determine whether the seven ambulances removed from service on February 25, 2014 will be placed back in service or remain idled every day through the end of the fiscal year.
“We are showing good faith with this pay raise and commitment to keeping apparatus in service,” said Parker. “I am asking the fire fighters out in the field to also show good faith by showing up for work, as scheduled.”
When asked about the interim agreement, Sky-Eagle said, “This is a win for the citizens of Houston and the firefighters are proud to work with Chief Garrison and the mayor to stop any further EMS units and fire apparatus from being removed from service.” Sky-Eagle stated, “End of the day, the firefighters knew that public and firefighter safety was more important than the timing of receiving benefits we had earned,” referring to the push of a uniform allowance into Fiscal Year 2015, freeing up authorized money for use in staffing apparatus.
The interim agreement also includes the following provisions:
• An improved work schedule program will continue to be developed and will be implemented in the first full pay period following July 1, 2014
• A four-year payout, instead of a lump sum termination payment, for retiring firefighters, at least through the remainder of FY14
• An agreement by both parties that a future collective bargaining agreement will include the elimination of the District Vacation Bank concept beginning with the vacation scheduling for 2015
• A five percent cap on guaranteed holidays from July 1, 2014 to the end of the future collective bargaining agreement the two sides anticipate reaching
Subject to expedited approval by the rank and file and City Council, the interim agreement will be in effect through the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, 2014. In the meantime, negotiations will continue on a new three-year contract that would be effective July 1, 2014. Both sides are pledging to continue good faith progress on wages, incentives and other staffing proposals that will reduce the possibility of another overtime crisis.