San Bernardino, Fire Union Resolve $40 Million In Claims

SAN BERNARDINO, CA – An agreement between the city and its firefighter union that ends more than $40 million worth of disputes is now final, with approval from both sides.

The City Council voted 6-0 Monday to approve the settlement, one week after approving a tentative version of the plan in closed session.

“Reaching equitable settlements are essential to exiting bankruptcy,” City Attorney Gary Saenz said in a written statement. “We are required to assess the short- and long-term costs associated with each settlement the city enters into and agree on terms that allow the city to be financially and service solvent. This settlement does both.

“We have been able to agree on an equitable settlement of over $40 million in claims and clear up the transition process for fire employees associated with the proposed annexation to county fire.”

Most of the city firefighters will transfer to San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Members of the San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters voted last week to approve the agreement, which union President Jeff English said redresses “inappropriate past financial actions” by the city.

“This global agreement is a positive step that will improve emergency response times and increase fire protection and paramedic services for San Bernardino residents,” English said in a statement. “Ensuring better public safety has always been the most important consideration for city firefighters.”

The 22-page agreement ends nine years of claims the fire union brought against the city, with the city agreeing to several payments in exchange for the union dropping its claims and supporting the fire outsourcing process and bankruptcy exit plan.

Components include:

  • Payment of $1.6 million to resolve claims stemming from the city imposing pension cost-sharing above 9 percent
  • About $1.1 million for settlement of other lawsuits filed since the 2012 bankruptcy filing
  • The union consents to its treatment as an unsecured creditor who, as the city proposes for other unsecured creditors, will receive 1 percent of its $14 million claim
  • Two payments of about $1.5 million each — one in 2016 and one in 2017 — in exchange for a release from any claims related to lower wages or benefits after county fire takes over claims arising from implementation of annexation, including any wage or benefit claims
  • Payment of about $430,000 to the county so transitioning firefighters will receive sick leave and vacation time

While the earlier tentative agreement and Monday’s final approval both got 6-0 votes, Councilman John Valdivia was absent from the last vote and Councilman Henry Nickel missed this one, meaning all council members supported it.

Valdivia said he had proposed a similar agreement earlier, but he was glad to support it now.

“The sad reality is we could have done this two years ago,” Valdivia said. “… This is a good thing for our community. It’s certainly good for those stakeholders that are involved.”

Support for the outsourcing component alone is pivotal, Saenz said earlier in the meeting.

“I would like to add and emphasize the importance of members of our fire union being in support of the annexation,” he said. “The level of fire service that’s provided to our citizens in San Bernardino is going to be increased to an acceptable level. That’s important to them; it’s important to everyone. We are going to be a safer city once we are able to complete this annexation.”

Union officials agreed, though not without criticism of the city.

“County annexation will restore firefighting companies and resources that have been significantly reduced because of the city’s bankruptcy status,” English said. “It will also relieve firefighters and their families of the unfair burden of working excessive overtime caused by the city’s unwillingness to fully staff our San Bernardino City Fire Department.”

From The San Bernardino Sun

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