UPDATE: Further hearing on the matter is set for March 7th.
The Houston Chronicle reports that the Houston Fire Department’s union (Local 341) has sued the City over the recent brownouts in coverage going around the City. Last Thursday, a Council Committee voted to compel the Fire Department into managing a large budget deficit (predominantly caused by excessive overtime pay through a generous union contract) through their own means. Accordingly, after Mayor Parker gave the nod to this course of action, the Fire Department announced they would begin rolling blackouts of service throughout the city, grounding ambulances for example, such as what happened this weekend.
Today at noon, the Firefighter’s Union sought a temporary restraining order from Judge Elaine Palmer (215th Civil District Court), which was then summarily denied. City Attorney David Feldman, Houston’s key counsel on legal issues, laughed off the suit as frivolous, proclaiming “This is not what the courthouse is for.”
Rather than Chief Terry Garrison, who must retain some semblance of a working relationship with Mayor Parker, this push has largely been driven by Bryan Sky-Eagle, the Firefighter’s Union President. In comments first reported by KPRC, Sky-Eagle noted he believed this would be an ongoing effort, albeit he made his comments before Judge Palmer denied his request for a temporary restraining order.
“This is the first step that we’re taking in a series of steps to end the rolling brownouts. We don’t know how the judge will rule on this, but we’re doing everything we can to protect the lives of the citizens and the firefighters. Fire Chief Garrison is named in this restraining order, but by no means is this a personal attack on him. He has been boxed into a corner where I don’t think he has any options. He’s doing simply the best that they can for what he has to work with,” Sky-Eagle said.
And this “series of steps” is sure to continue. Chronicle reporters noted on Twitter that a hearing has been set on the topic, though I cannot say when this hearing will be or any other details on the matter. Meanwhile, fresh out my inbox, the Mayor’s office has lambasted the Firefighter’s Union for alleged hypocrisy.
“The union is sorely mistaken in this instance. There is no intention of compromising public safety. So far, only seven transport units have been removed from service. These ambulances are not first responders and are the same units that were taken out of service in 2010 at the height of the budgetary issues the city faced due to the recession,” said Janice Evans, the Mayor’s Communication Director. “These units were returned to service with budget increases allotted to the fire department last July. The union raised no concerns in 2010. If we had the ability to make this move then, we have the ability to do it now.”
This is a sensitive issue, and I’ll have more when I get it.