HOUSTON - Houston firefighters have scored a game-changing legal victory in the multi-year, pitched battle with Mayor Sylvester Turner.
"This is a historic day. This is something firefighters and their families have long waited for," said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.
A unanimous ruling by the 14th Court of Appeals leaves intact current law which allows a judge to settle wage disputes when the collective bargaining process is locked in a stalemate, as it is with firefighters and the City.
If the decision withstands challenge, Houston taxpayers will likely be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of back-pay dating to 2017 plus a substantial salary hike for firefighters moving forward.
"It's a lot of money firefighters haven't been able to support their families with over the last five years," said Lancton.
In response to the ruling, Houston City Attorney Arturo Michel said "The City is evaluating its options and will decide in due time whether to ask the Texas Supreme Court to address this matter or present evidence to the trial court in support of just, fair, and affordable compensation to Houston’s Fire Fighters."
But Fox 26 Legal analyst Chris Tritico says the City's back is now squarely up against the courthouse wall.
"Basically they (14th Court of Appeals) say the firefighters win, straight up, hands down on every issue that this appeal was about and the City is left with little option here. That's really where we are. I think the City has lost this case. I don't understand the fight, other than to delay the obvious and as we delay the obvious, the bill grows," said Tritico.
And yet from the union president, who is still fighting his own termination by the City, an offer to seek a settlement.
"It really requires the Mayor to, hopefully, take a step back and say you know this road we've been going down is not going to work. Let’s find a better way," said Lancton.
Still looming in the same appeals court is a ruling on "Proposition B" the voter-approved measure giving Houston Firefighters the same pay as Houston Police.