HPOU prevails in Prop B lawsuit but Fire Union’s appeal will take months

In what seems like the never-ending story of Prop B, the HPOU scored a major victory this month. As you know, we filed a lawsuit questioning the legality/validity of Prop B in order to protect our bargaining sovereignty.

This lawsuit was not only about the present but the future of the HPOU, our members and their families. If Prop B was left unchecked, it would have had a catastrophic impact on all of us, placing an artificial cap on our wages going forward and severely limiting our ability to grow the Department while also offering a robust benefit package.

On May 15, Judge Tanya Harrison ruled that Prop B was in conflict with current state law and as a result was invalid/illegal. This confirmed what we knew all along at the HPOU, but unfortunately, due to existing case law, we could not file our lawsuit until after the November election.

Here is the HPOU’s full statement upon the Judge’s decision:

“We are certainly pleased with Judge Garrison’s decision today to rule that Proposition B is invalid and illegal. It was the HPOU’s position that the existing law governing how Houston Fire Fighters negotiate their pay was in complete conflict with Prop B and the Judge agreed. Unfortunately, case law did not allow our lawsuit to be filed prior to the election, but thankfully the law finally prevailed.

This gives us all an opportunity to put this unfortunate, yet avoidable, chapter in Houston’s history behind us. We have an opportunity to stop the costly lawsuits, stop the litigation, stop the rhetoric and work out a deal, because ultimately that is what our community wants.

We can only hope that the Fire Union will sit down with Mayor Turner and negotiate a reasonable pay raise that brings them in line with their market counterparts, but does not push the City to the precipice of bankruptcy.

Finally, we are thankful. Thankful that Judge Garrison has ruled in our favor and has saved the jobs of more than 285 firefighters and nearly 50 municipal employees. Thankful that more than 330 families who are a part of the very fabric of our community will not have to worry where or when their next paycheck is coming from.”

We were hopeful that the Fire Union would stop their lawsuits and sit down to finally negotiate a pay raise for their members. However, that does not seem to be the case as they have filed an appeal with the Texas 14th Court of Appeals. This process will take approx. 12-18 months, which will only add to the wage gap of HFD and its market counterparts.

There appears to be no relief in sight for our brothers and sisters in the Houston Fire Department. We are confident that we will once again prevail in the appeal, just as we did in Judge Garrison’s court as we continue to protect our collective futures, along with the jobs of more than 330 workers and their families in this City.

Legislative Session Ends

The 86th Texas Legislature has come to a close. I am happy to report that because of our robust presence in Austin we were able to advocate for officers not just in Houston but across the state and defeat some very harmful bills that were presented.

We did this by educating legislators about the dangers these bills posed to law enforcement and we made sure that they heard from the subject matter experts, who are out on the streets doing the work every single day. Often times, people will purport to be experts on how police officers should do their job; however, they have never been faced with making split second, life and death decisions, or know nothing about every day police work.

The HPOU will continue to have a strong presence in Austin in the years going forward and will continue to be an out-spoken advocate for the brave men and women who put on a uniform every day.

While we had many allies during the session, I want to specifically thank Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Sen. John Whitmire, Sen. Joan Huffman, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Dennis Bonnen, Rep. Dan Huberty, Rep. Jim Murphy and Rep. Sam Harless, who listened to, but also sought out our concerns proactively to greatly help our team during the entire session. We were also blessed to work closely with Lt. Jessica Anderson, who represented the Department during the session.

Staffing

As you know this fiscal year, we are adding 100 police officers over attrition as the mayor and City Council made good on the commitment we laid out before them in our “Drive for 500.” I am now ecstatic to report that this coming fiscal year we have a commitment from Mayor Turner and the council to budget for the hiring of 375 police officers!

If our attrition number hovers around 200-225, we will once again add more than 100 police officers to our ranks. We hear every day from officers on patrol and investigations how short we are. We see the symptoms in our response times and massive caseloads, but last fiscal year and this coming fiscal year are steps in a positive direction to climbing the Mt. Everest that is our staffing crisis.

This sustainable growth puts us on a path to continue increasing our ranks at a rate that the department and its infrastructure can handle. We will continue to educate the public and our elected officials of the consequences of having an understaffed police department, while also providing a path forward to fix it.

As always, be safe out there and if you need anything I am only a phone call away, text, or you can also reach me at the following: email (jgamaldi@hpou.org), messenger on Facebook, DM on twitter (@JoeGamaldi).