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City of Houston and Firefighters announce interim agreement on overtime

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 HPFFA Pres  Sky-Eagle explains interim agreement on overtime and sick leave Mar 3 2014
HPFFA Pres Sky-Eagle explains interim agreement on overtime and sick leave Mar 3 2014Marc Pembroke
City Attorney Dave Feldman (left, Mayor Parker, HPFFA Pres Sky-Eagle, chief Garrison
City Attorney Dave Feldman (left, Mayor Parker, HPFFA Pres Sky-Eagle, chief Garrison photo by Marc Pembroke

On Monday March 3, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, joined by Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association (HPFFA) President Bryan Sky-Eagle, Fire Department Chief Garrison, and City Attorney Dave Feldman, announced an interim agreement on overtime pay at a press conference in the Proclamation Room of City Hall.

The City has been in scheduled collective bargaining with the HPFFA since January. However, an unexpected issue arose when it appeared that a rapid increase involving $8.5 million in overtime and sick leave pay could result in “brownouts” or limitations in service and deployment of firefighting vehicles.

The issue generated heated debate from both sides, with ardent commentary from the public and individual City Council members last week.

“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 purpose of the interim agreement is to avert a financial crisis for the remainder of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014. By then, both parties expect a new 3-year contract addressing all the issues to be negotiated and effective.

Under the interim agreement, the firefighters agreed to cancel all guaranteed personal holidays and to limit personal sick leave time to actual emergencies. In exchange, they will receive a 2% salary increase and a uniform allowance totaling about $3.6 million. The pay increase was consistent with an increase that had been promised under the existing contract negotiated in 2011, subject to economic conditions.

The agreement averts the “brownouts” since it does not appear likely that an excessive amount of sick leave or overtime requests would occur during the remainder of the year. Consequently under known rules for minimal staff for the safe operation of fire trucks, hook and ladders, and other equipment, all units will remain fully functional.

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,"

Sky-Eagle expects to organize a referendum on the agreement for later this week. If approved, the agreement will be on the City Council agenda for next Wednesday, March 12.

Following the conference, Vice-Mayor Ed Gonzalez summarized the announcement in Spanish.