EDITORIAL: Crossing the hard blue line

The city of San Bernardino’s bankruptcy process remains far from being resolved, an unfortunate reality given that the beleaguered municipality has already struggled for more than two years.

This is in some part due to the stubbornness of the city’s public safety unions to accept necessary reforms to the status quo. Whereas all other city bargaining units have agreed, among other things, to contribute more toward pensions, the police and firefighters unions have resisted such changes.

The unions have dragged their feet throughout the bankruptcy process. They campaigned heavily against common sense reforms to pay practices and have repeatedly stalled contract negotiations.

This is particularly true of the firefighters union, which continues to appeal court decisions in favor of the city. The union is currently appealing a number of rulings in favor of scrapping old memorandums of understanding in favor of a less financially burdensome contract.

“Although all of our creditors have been part of mediation proceedings, the fire union requested that they be allowed to withdraw from the mediation process,” City Attorney Gary Saenz told our editorial board.

Meanwhile, bankruptcy judge Meredith Jury ruled this month that the city may reject its bargaining unit with the police union. While the city and the police union seemed close to agreeing to a new contract last fall, negotiations eventually broke down, with both sides blaming the other.

While the precise aims of the city in these contract changes is subject to confidentiality, it is likely that they revolve primarily around employee benefits, such as pensions and other post-employment benefits.

Though the city will not be pursuing cuts to pension obligation, it is likely seeking higher contributions. Further, the city is considering impairments to OPEBs, as the city of Stockton has done.

Whether this will be in the form of outright abolition of OPEBs or selective reductions is unclear, though this alone has the potential to save the city significant sums of money going forward.

Both unions have consistently failed to respond to comment, an unfortunate pattern given their significant stature and influence in the city.

Ultimately, we hope to find out soon what the city’s plan of adjustment is and what more needs to be done to bring solvency to San Bernardino.