The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Parker has sued the Firefighter’s Union Pension system in order to throw out an obscure state law that binds the hands of the municipality in dealing with pension negotiations. The law, passed in the 1997 session of the State Legislature, deprives the City of Houston of local negotiating authority against the Firefighter’s union. It also requires Houston to make a full contribution to the fund, something not required of its Police Officer pension plan or its Municipal Employee pension plan. Neither of these restrictions apply to any other metropolitan area in the State, only Houston.
Over the past two legislative sessions, Parker has worked tirelessly to convince the Legislature to repeal or otherwise alter the law, thus allowing “meet and confer” conferences between Firefighter’s Unions and the Mayoral administration. The Legislature has not budged, so today the Mayor took matters into her own hands. The City is suing the pension in State District Court, arguing that the law governing the pensions is arbitrary and capriciously, thus unconstitutional. “We’re trying to force negotiations,” Parker said, making the point repeatedly that this was not about screwing the Firefighter’s –especially already retired ones– out of their earned benefits. Rather, it is about making sure the City does not follow the same path as Detroit.
The lawsuit drew a harsh rebuke from the President of the Firefighter’s Union, as well as an even stronger critique from the director of the pension fund. Todd Clark, who serves in that capacity, released the following statement:
“This lawsuit is not anything more than a power-grab and publicity stunt by the Mayor of the City of Houston Annise D. Parker to continue in her vendetta against the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund for certainly not supporting her campaigns. The lawsuit is a political tactics to attack and hurt elderly and disabled firefighters and their families. … It’s interesting that the Mayor can finance two lawsuits against the Firefighters’ Pension System but cannot finance the retirement of the men and women of the Houston fire department who are faced with a high degree of danger mixed with life and death decisions in their job in service to this city daily.”
I would personally disagree with his assessment of hurting “elderly and disable firefighters,” but make of it what you will. The basic plan I have been familiar with is that people who have been hired since 2004 would receive a reduction of some amount, similar to previous reforms instituted amongst the Police and civilian workforce. The Firefighters and Parker, of course, do not have an amicable relationship (and that is putting it lightly). I will update when I figure out whose Court it is in.