Shared from the 5/16/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Let Prop B die

Mayor has promised raises the city can afford; firefighters should see it as a fair path forward.

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Brett Coomer / Staff photographer

Marty Lancton, the head of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, should call a truce and meet Mayor Sylvester Turner at the bargaining table.

Houston firefighters have a choice to make: accept a judge’s ruling that their voter-approved pay hikes are illegal, or appeal and keep fighting.

Their union president wasted no time Wednesday in vowing to appeal state District Judge Tanya Garrison’s ruling in favor of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, which had sued to block a ballot measure that granted firefighters pay parity with police. Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, once again accused Mayor Sylvester Turner of a “vindictive” campaign against firefighter families in opposing the parity raises voters approved in Proposition B last fall.

There’s a better way forward. And it isn’t endless litigation and name-calling, which will only continue to divide first responders and the city as a whole.

Firefighters should accept the ruling and return to the bargaining table, this time with newfound leverage: Proposition B was proof that the voters of Houston want their firefighters to be better paid.

This editorial board has clearly objected to the firefighter’s methods of securing a 29 percent raise, on average, in a cash-strapped, revenue-capped city. The mayor warned before its passage that it could only be implemented by dipping into savings and making steep cuts, including layoffs of firefighters and municipal employees. True to his word, Turner had begun moving forward with those dire consequences.

But no one can deny that the people have spoken. And despite firefighters’ loss in court this week, the popular will of Houston voters provides powerful incentive for Turner, who is up for re-election, to negotiate generously with firefighters this time around.

Indeed, Turner reiterated shortly after the ruling his support of a firefighter raise – albeit one the city can afford.

“Are firefighters deserving of a pay raise? The answer is yes,” Turner said at a press conference. “Is this administration committing to offer a pay raise to them? Yes. Are there going to be layoffs? No. Are there going to be demotions? No.”

Firefighters would earn additional political capital if they were to end their appeal and accept the court’s ruling that Prop Bwas unconstitutional and was in any case preempted by long-standing state law.

It’s never easy to stop fighting when there are additional rounds to play. We understand that given how bruising the fight over Prop B has been, Houston firefighters are likely still itching for a confrontation. The mayor, while right on the merits from the beginning, didn’t do nearly as much as he could have to defuse the situation. But he’s extending the olive branch now, and the union should seize on it to negotiate fair but prudent raises that would not require widespread layoffs.

The city is facing an enormous list of challenges, including budget worries even beyond the question of firefighter pay. This Prop Bruling offers both sides a way out of the conflict they’ve steadily ratcheted up over the past six months.

The firefighters need a raise, and the city needs its firefighters. Houston also needs its mayor and city council to turn to other items on the pressing to-do list. It’s time the city and its firefighters call a truce in this battle.

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