Mayor John Whitmire has taken a significant step towards reconciliation with the Houston firefighters union by instructing the city attorney to drop an appeal initiated by the former administration just before the change in city leadership.
The city and the union had been entangled in a prolonged pay dispute throughout the tenure of former Mayor Sylvester Turner, with firefighters lacking a contract since 2017. In December 2023, a judge rejected the city’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, mandating both parties to commence contract negotiations within a month. The city appealed this decision on December 29.
Maintaining strong ties with firefighters throughout his political career, Mayor Whitmire had been a vocal supporter of the firefighters union during his mayoral campaign. He successfully advocated for a bill in the Texas Legislature in 2023, enforcing binding arbitration for such disputes. While the judge ruled the bill constitutional, it could not be applied retroactively.
In a meeting with firefighters union leaders on Wednesday morning, Mayor Whitmire directed City Attorney Arturo Michel to withdraw the recent appeal, expressing the desire for the city to disengage from the court process and prioritize a fair and swift resolution to the longstanding dispute.
“I stated repeatedly on the campaign trail and in my inaugural address that our first responders will not have to fear court action during the Whitmire Administration. I am following through on that promise,” Mayor Whitmire declared.
Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, welcomed Mayor Whitmire’s swift action, expressing optimism and gratitude for the mayor’s commitment to his campaign promises. The union had endorsed Whitmire’s mayoral bid last year.
“After eight years of acrimony, we are finally headed in the right direction. It is hard to express how much it means to Houston firefighters and their families to have a leader who respects them and will follow through on what he says,” said Lancton.
Former Mayor Turner had cautioned against the fiscal implications of additional pay raises for firefighters, criticizing Whitmire’s binding arbitration bill. Both sides have now directed their attorneys to initiate meetings this week and remain in contact until an agreement is reached on the next steps, according to the mayor’s office.