HOUSTON (Houston Chronicle) – The city has sent pink slips to 68 Houston Fire Department cadets, the first documented layoffs resulting from Mayor Sylvester Turner’s plan to implement Proposition B.
The trainees will remain employed through June 7, according to a copy of the layoff notice sent to cadets.
“The City of Houston has experienced a sizeable budget shortfall due to the implementation of Prop B,” the layoff notices read, referring to the charter admendent passed by voters last November.
The measure requires the city to pay firefighters the same as police of corresponding rank and experience. Voters approved Prop B by a wide margin.
The cadets’ firefighting careers had been in limbo after Turner declined to promote them following their graduation from training earlier this year. Turner had said he would not promote the cadets while the city was under a hiring freeze he imposed last September in anticipation of the vote on the Proposition B.
Despite the hiring freeze, he swore in more than 60 police cadets in early March, angering the fire union, whose leaders have accused him of being vindictive toward firefighters.
Throughout the lead-up to the election, Turner had warned that passage of the parity measure could mean the layoffs of hundreds of city employees including firefighters. Turner has said the measure would cost the city $100 million a year, though he recently has begun using the figure of $80 million.
His plan for implementing the raises required under Prop B, unveiled last month in talks with city council members, calls for the layoff of up to 400 firefighters, including the cadets. It also calls for all city departments to cut their spending by 3 percent, which is expected to lead to the layoff of about 100 municipal workers.
The layoff notice from Fire Chief Sam Peña also reads: “I want to assure you that the elimination of your position was a business decision and does not reflect your work performance or the value we place on your service to the City.”
Turner’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In recent weeks, the mayor has said no layoffs would be needed if the raises required by Prop B could be phased in over four or five years.
In a statement, fire union President Marty Lancton said the layoffs were preventable. He called on city council members to “finally stand up to Turner and reject his slash-and-burn plan for HFD,” predicting the mayor would soon lay off firefighters and close fire stations.
“Sylvester Turner’s layoff notices to taxpayer-funded, Houston-trained HFD cadets reflect the mayor’s ineptitude, egotism, and a new depth of his vindictiveness,” Lancton said.