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Houston City Controller provides alternative scenarios to $650M settlement with Houston Professional Firefighters Union

By Indira Zaldivar & Edward Saenz

Houston City Controller Chris Hollins addressed the proposed $650 million settlement between the city and the Professional Fire Fighters Association in a recent briefing on Monday, emphasizing the importance of fair compensation for firefighters.

The deal, reached between Houston Mayor John Whitmire and the Houston Professional Firefighters Association back in March, includes back pay dating back to 2017 and raises over the next five years, totaling an estimated $1.5 billion when considering interest.

Hollins highlighted the salary disparity between Houston firefighters and their counterparts in other major Texas cities, noting that Houston firefighters earn about 10% less on average. Despite receiving 6% raises annually from 2022 to 2024, Houston firefighters still lag behind in salary compared to their peers. Hollins outlined a plan for incremental raises through 2029 to bring Houston firefighter salaries closer to the average of other cities.

The proposed settlement would increase the salary of first-year Houston firefighters to around $72,000 by 2029. Hollins suggested at least six alternative scenarios to mitigate the financial impact on the city while still improving firefighter pay, such as basing raises on the averages of other large fire departments in the state or aligning with the raises given to the Houston Police Department or other city workers.

Hollins referenced the HController.com/fire website for the public and interested parties to arrive with more scenarios and insights:  

“To arrive at a $1.2 billion settlement figure (the potential liabilty described by the Mayor and union leadership), HFD firefighters would had to receive a starting salary of $66,400 from FY2018-2024. This represents a 53% raise in FY2018.

In this scenario, the additional cost to the City would have been roughly $1 billion over that timeframe ($1.2 billion with interest).

-$290-300K per firefighter

-$41-43K per firefighter, per disputed year.”

Whitmire responded to Hollins’ proposals in a statement, defending the current settlement as the best available alternative to a potentially costly judgment after prolonged litigation. He emphasized that Texas law mandates firefighter pay comparisons with the private sector rather than the public sector.

In a statement, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association criticized Hollins’ remarks, labeling them as “uninformed, misleading, and inaccurate.” The union’s president, Marty Lancton, expressed disappointment in Hollins’ comments, asserting that they undermine the dedication and sacrifice of Houston firefighters.

“Our commitment is to continue to work with… the mayor, city council and other stakeholders to put the city of Houston on a pathway to fiscal sustainability,” Hollins said at the public briefing. “That’s not an easy task, but my office is going to do its part to make sure that you all as policymakers are working with the same set of facts.”

City council members including Edward Pollard and Tiffany Thomas expressed interest in exploring alternative scenarios to reduce costs while still addressing firefighter compensation.

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