The Houston Chronicle reports that Bryan Sky-Eagle, the President of the Houston Firefighter’s Union, has prematurely resigned his position. Sky-Eagle was elected to the post in October 2013 to what was ostensibly a three year term. However, not even one year into the position, he has called it quits, citing the irreconcilable difficulties he had with his membership. To put it bluntly, he was seen as too cozy with Mayor Annise Parker by the rank-and-file members of the union, whom he was quite unpopular therewith.
The Firefighter’s Union has recently been in the news due to a long standing argument between its members and the City of Houston on the topic of pensions. Firefighter’s pensions are considerably more sizable than those for other municipal public servants (Bureaucrats and Police Officers, respectively), and while they have been reduced and modified for others at City Hall in recent years, the same has not happened for the firefighter’s. This is mainly due to an arcane State Law that allows the Legislature to directly oversee the firefighter’s pensions.
Over the summer, there was a tentative agreement reached between Sky-Eagle and Parker on future firefighter contracts, specifically curtailing overtime benefits. Sky-Eagle unilaterally reached this agreement, and when it was supposed to be confirmed by union membership (typically a mere formality), a whopping 93% of members voted it down. Furthermore, there have been other examples of Sky-Eagle going at it alone and without the proper authorization of his membership. The Chronicle article even notes a few examples where he was sternly rebuked by the International Union association.
Specifically, on one occasion, Sky-Eagle made a point of not reimbursing union members for their attendance at a conference. The International Association of Firefighters specifically ordered him to reverse the action. This, among other actions, led to a lawsuit between the local and international entities. The only problem with this is that Sky-Eagle went gunboat on the lawsuit, without seeking the requisite approval from the union membership.
Sky-Eagle, for his part, said that he has been receiving anonymous threats of violence, and decided that it all just wasn’t worth it anymore. I am angered to hear that someone personally went after him, as it cheapens the validity of actual criticisms against him.
As for the underlying issue, I’ve opined broadly on both sides of this issue before, and haven’t necessarily made up my mind about the philosophy of it all. I didn’t actually think the compromise reached between Parker and Sky-Eagle was that bad, but I suppose this was more a comment on how he went about it all.