Houston firefighters get layoff notices, demotion letters under Prop B implementation, union says

Houston firefighters have started to receive layoff notices amid the implementation of Proposition B, Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said in a statement Wednesday.

Houston City Council voted last week to layoff 220 firefighters to help offset firefighter raises mandated by the voter-approved proposition. The union said the firefighters received the notices via email Tuesday in what Lancton called a "slash-and-burn plan" from Mayor Sylvester Turner.

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Lancton also expressed disappointment with Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña over the layoffs.

"We are deeply disappointed that Samuel Peña has become the first fire chief in Houston history to willingly execute mass layoffs and demotions of firefighters," Lancton said in a statement. "From the city’s founding to the Great Depression, to two world wars and deep downturns of the energy industry, no fire chief had taken this course of action until today. Chief Peña now is alone among all Houston fire chiefs in that dubious distinction."

Hundreds of HFD personnel also received demotion notices Wednesday, according to a letter provided to Chron.com. The firefighters union estimates upwards of 450 HFD personnel will be demoted.

In both notices, Peña addresses the personnel by saying the decision to layoff and demote HFD personnel was a "business decision."

Mayor Sylvester Turner issued the following statement regarding the notice of layoffs:

Proposition B came without a funding source as it adds $80 million to $100 million a year to the city’s bottom line. At the same time, the city is experiencing a $117 million budget gap, with the cost of Prop B added on top of that.

By law, the city must balance its budget before the start of the next fiscal year, July 1.
The City asked Patrick "Marty" Lancton of the firefighters’ association to phase in Prop B over five years to avoid any layoffs of firefighters and municipal workers. He refused and is demanding the immediate implementation of Prop B. The City is doing precisely that. but it will require layoffs to balance the city’s budget.

On Wednesday, April 24, city council voted to lay off 220 firefighters to help balance the budget. The 60-day layoff notices were delivered to each firefighter on April 30.
Prior to that, 67 fire cadets received notice that they will be laid off in 60 days and 47 municipal workers received notice.
In the absence of a phased-in approach, the City’s options are limited when we must balance our budget by the end of June.

On April 18, State District Judge Tanya Garrison ordered all parties to attend mediation until a settlement is achieved or the mediator determines they have reached an impasse.

The mediation resumes Thursday afternoon on Thursday, May 2, 2019.

Jay R. Jordan covers breaking news in the Houston area. Read him on our breaking news site, Chron.com, and our subscriber site, HoustonChronicle.com | Follow him on Twitter at @JayRJordan | Email him at jay.jordan@chron.com | Text CHRON to 77453 to receive breaking news alerts by text message

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