Texas Court of Appeals Upholds Houston Pay Parity

A three-judge panel from the Texas 14th Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 341 in their ongoing battle over the constitutionality of a pay-parity referendum enacted by voters in 2018.

The voter-enacted parity requirement mandated that firefighters be compensated “in a manner and amount that is at least equal and comparable by rank and seniority with… City police officers.” That prompted the Houston Police Officers’ Union to sue the City and Local 341 claiming the parity requirement violated the Fire and Police Employee Relations Act (FPERA) was unconstitutional under the state’s constitution, and was illegal because it violated public policy.

Once the suit was filed, the city essentially switched sides by agreeing with the police union. The city and the police union then jointly moved for summary judgment, which was granted in May of 2019. The firefighters appealed.

In a ruling handed down today, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

  • We conclude that the FPERA does not preempt the pay-parity amendment.
  • Therefore, the trial court erred in its declarations that (1) the FPERA preempts the pay-parity amendment, and (2) the pay-parity amendment violates article XI, section 5 of the Texas Constitution.

A statement issued by Houston City Attorney Arturo Michel was quoted by Courthouse News Service as saying:

  • The city of Houston respectfully disagrees with today’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals decision.
  • The net effect of what the firefighter’s union is seeking would be financially devastating to the city. The city will seek review of the decision through either reconsideration by the entire Fourteenth Court of Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, or both.

Here is a copy of the decision:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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