SAN BERNARDINO, CA – Contract negotiations with seven city employee groups ended Monday as the City Council voted to accept new contracts that cut nearly $26million in pay and benefits, in some cases without agreement from those unions.
The votes, which followed almost three hours of closed-door conversations by the council, implement cuts to police, fire and other employee groups that the council had included in a budget plan submitted to U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Riverside in November.
Finally getting them approved is vital to the city’s efforts to prove it’s serious about a plan to balance its budget and thus is eligible for bankruptcy protection, said Councilman Fred Shorett.
“In my view, these resolutions that we’re working with tonight are critical to the future of the city and sustaining it,” Shorett said, “not only getting us into bankruptcy (court) but leading us on a path out of bankruptcy.”
This was an important vote, but it was too early to impose contracts unilaterally, said Councilman Robert Jenkins.
“We need to have a good working relationship with all our employes, and I commend and thank the bargaining units that were able to come to an agreement,” Jenkins said. “Those that we don’t have an agreement with, I believe that we were close.”
Some unions had voted to approve the new contracts with the city, and those passed with a 5-2 vote. Others – the union representing middle managers, which is arguing in court that the city doesn’t qualify for bankruptcy protection, and the police and fire unions – had failed to reach agreement after months of attempted negotiations, giving the city the legal right and necessity to unilaterally impose the cuts, according to the resolutions.
Jenkins voted only for the contracts accepted by both sides, leaving a 4-3 vote for the others – Jenkins and Councilmen John Valdivia and Chas Kelley opposing.
But Steve Turner, the president of the police union pushed against that contention, saying a lack of communication on city negotiators’ parts was demonstrated by the fact that he said he found out from The Sun that mediation in bankruptcy court had failed.
“It’s confusing, it’s unfortunate,” Turner said. “This city is constantly sending the message that our employees are not important, and unfortunately the fact that we’re in impasse is a big surprise to us until we read the article.”
Among the changes in the new contracts are increased employee payments to the California Public Employee Retirement System and an end to the 9-percent salary bump for police and fire employees known as the employer paid member contribution benefit.
In a message posted after the vote, Councilman John Valdivia blasted a plan that he said didn’t account for public input.
“Sensing the failure to accommodate the public’s comments, I can only conclude that the politicians at City Hall are concerned about their own interests and have no interest in hearing from the general public and (concerned) residents’ thought and input,” Valdivia said.
The police management union, representing higher-ranked officers, submitted a new proposal Monday afternoon, so that will be considered at a meeting Feb. 4.