Wait! Before considering HFD’s pay parity petition, why compare the HPD apple to the HFD orange?

While I rode nightshift patrol for around 18 years, HPD and HFD had a great working relationship.  While we did completely different jobs, many times we were on the same scenes.

We supported each other and assisted each other in our very different roles.  Unfortunately, the pay parity petition they have put forth, coupled with the pension bill that lumped police, fire and municipal in the same bill, has put a severe strain on that relationship.

Before I state my position on their petition, I want to be clear that I am confident that our entire membership believes our brothers and sisters in red deserve a pay raise and deserve to be paid comparable to FIREFIGHTERS in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Fort Worth, just as we compare ourselves to POLICE OFFICERS in those cities.

We have NEVER compared our pay with firefighters in this city or firefighters in any comparable city since our first contract in 1998.  Their petition that calls for parity with HPD is flawed and cannot be supported by the HPOU.

This petition calls for any new pay or benefits achieved by police to go to fire as well, but NO MENTION of benefits, shifts, overtime policies, etc., achieved by fire going to police.

The petition campaign shows similarities between HFD and HPD and lists 14 Line of Duty deaths for police and 15 for fire.  It lists the work week for fire at 46.7 hours per week, while showing police only working 40 hours per week.

I called their union president and asked the intent of these two statistics.  He advised me that he was only trying to show how similar the jobs are and assured me there was no ill intent.

I refuse to even address the line of duty deaths as this has never come up in any contract negotiations that I have ever been a part of and feel every lost life is tragic.

I will, however, address the 40 hours versus 46.7 hours.  I know many police officers who would jump at the opportunity to work nine days a month, 24-hour shifts, and be able to remain at the station and respond to calls from there and be permitted to sleep when there were no calls.  (No HPD calls holding would be VERY seldom.)  HPD policy prohibits sleeping on duty and can result in termination.  That statistic being placed in play in this petition drive was disingenuous, to say the least.

The petition campaign calls for pay parity in base pay from “comparable” ranks. That’s the next problem we have with this petition.

The fire petition compares their Engineer/Operators (EO) to our Senior Police Officers.  One can become an EO at HFD after three years.  The earliest a police officer can reach Senior Police Officer at HPD is 12 years.

They compare their Senior Captain, Senior Inspector, Senior Investigator, Communications Senior Captain, and Shop Supervisor to our Lieutenants.  We have 213 lieutenants in a department of 5,100.  They have at least 237 “comparables” in a department of 4,100.

They compare our Captain rank to their District Chief, Assistant Arson Investigator, Chief Inspector, Chief Communications Officer and Master Mechanic.  We have 44 Captains, they have at least 126 “comparables.”

Their Deputy Chief, Arson Investigator, Assistant Fire Marshal, and Deputy Chief Communications Officer have no comparable at HPD because we gave up the position of Deputy Chief years ago for a pay raise.

Are they wanting to give up this tested rank?  They have at least 13 in these ranks and want them paid 15 percent above an HPD Captain’s pay.  Therefore, if we were to negotiate a three percent pay increase for our 44 Captains, they would receive a three percent pay raise for at least 139 “comparables” from a finite money pie. While HFD is close to 20 percent smaller than HPD, they have a much larger percentage of supervisors than HPD.

This petition campaign does not stop at base pay.  It also includes the following:

 

  • Those employed in fire suppression to receive patrol pay.
  • All shall receive the same training pay as police with like seniority.
  • Arson Investigators shall receive investigator pay.
  • Firefighters who train others shall receive field training pay.
  • Firefighters shall receive mentoring pay as those in HPD.
  • Weekend and shift differential pay shall apply to some.
  • Firefighters shall receive educational incentive pay (but not required to promote as with HPD).
  • They shall receive college reimbursement (but again no requirement to promote).
  • They shall receive a clothing allowance.
  • They shall receive equipment pay (remember police buy their own guns, ammo, handcuffs, expandable night sticks, etc.).

 

As many of you know, the above pays were negotiated over several contracts and were the result of us giving up something else.  That’s how Meet and Confer works.  Our friends in red want the benefits we have achieved, but no mention of giving up what we have done to receive these benefits.  As mentioned above, years ago we gave up the tested rank of Deputy Chief.  Fire maintains this rank.

Many years ago, the HPOU allowed, by contract, for HPD to put whomever they want in the academy classes which has resulted in a majority minority department.  Fire does not have this policy.

Furthermore, HFD officers attend in-service training on an overtime basis.  We attend on-duty status and do not replace that worker who attends in-service.  Their beat or district coworkers simply suck it up.  HFD has a requirement of four persons per truck.  It would be great if we had a requirement of two persons per unit.  We don’t.

HFD has minimum staffing and persons are called in for overtime when one calls in sick.  HPD does not replace anyone who calls in sick.  We simply have others at work cover that workload.

In order to take the promotional exam for Lieutenant at HPD, one must have an associate’s degree.  One must have at least a bachelor’s degree to take the Captain exam.  One must have a master’s degree to be appointed to Assistant or Executive Assistant Chief.  These requirements requested by management during Meet and Confer resulted in education pay incentive and college tuition reimbursement.

There is no educational requirement for any rank at HFD, but their petition calls for education pay and tuition reimbursement.

Also, during the pension debate in Austin this past session, HFD successfully convinced Senator Joan Huffman to allow them to continue to game their pension by using overtime and the highest 72 pay periods.

Further, they were given a different formula for COLAs that will allow them a slightly higher COLA than HPD.  Senator Huffman justified that by stating that she was trying to get as close as possible to their initially agreed upon concessions. Mark Clark and I questioned why HPD was not getting these same benefits since we were put in the same bill.

We were advised that HFD was behind HPD in active pay and agreed not to oppose these two benefits they would receive that we would not.  These two benefits were on top of the fact that HFD firefighters hired after 2004 until now have DROP, while our officers hired after 2004 have no DROP.

During the session, I ran into a firefighter who graduated the same year as I did from the same high school.  He and I debated the pension bill in the hallway while several other firefighters listened in.  He stated that they are paid less than HPD and I advised him that his pension was much better. He disagreed.

I then pulled up my DROP statement on my phone and showed him my balance and monthly benefit.  He was very surprised and questioned how I intended to live on that amount.  I assured him that while I wish it was higher, my desire was to make sure our pension was sustainable today AND in the future.

Remember, every dime spent in the City of Houston is taken from the same finite pool of money.

I consider my counterpart at HFD to be a friend and have total respect for him trying to get the best deal possible for his members, even if I disagree with the method.  He recently asked me why I would not support this petition since we are both labor leaders.  I advised him that I have never looked at HFD pay or any other fire department’s pay during our negotiations because it would be like comparing apples to oranges.

I also advised him that the HPOU and our members would have totally supported any petition drive that called for HFD to be paid comparable to FIREFIGHTERS in Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio.  This is not what they have done and we are not supportive of this petition.

While I applaud them for getting so many signatures in a very short period of time, I wonder how many of those signing knew all the facts and how can one put those kinds of details in a petition?  Contracts takes months to negotiate.

Interestingly, around 2005, our friends at fire did not like the procedures for getting pay and benefit increases, so they went to the voters to gain collective bargaining.  They achieved that, but now claim that is not working for them, so they want to go back to the voters to negotiate pay and benefits at the ballot box.

Nowhere in their petition does it mention a cost.  Wouldn’t that be important to a taxpayer to know?  It’s very important to us as we get ready to negotiate our next contract.

Our Vice President, Joe Gamaldi, did some quick math and found that it would cost between $40-50 million per year at minimum.

When I advised some in red of this fact, I was accused of being a mouthpiece for the mayor.  No, I’m just a mouthpiece for our members who have given up things to get the pay we have today, who have taken small raises over the years to get where we are today, who even took two years of zero pay increases, and who did not get pension contributions paid in order to prevent layoffs of police officers and firefighters.

In closing, I am certain some in red will take from this article that Ray Hunt and the HPOU do not support a pay raise for firefighters.

That is the farthest from the truth.  That is fake news!

We want our brothers and sisters in red to receive fair compensation through collective bargaining that is comparable to firefighters in Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.

/augus