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San Bernardino County Sentinel

by Mark Gutglueck, 8/19/11 – The San Bernardino County Sentinel

Colton – Having reached an impasse over work schedule reductions with the bargaining units for the two major groups of its utility workers, the city of Colton exercised  its legal authority to impose its “last, best and final offer” on municipal electrical and water employees  on August 16.

Imposing a contract on municipal employees is a relatively rare occurrence. But the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents both water and electrical division employees, was unable to come to terms with the city over worker furloughs.  The union had already accepted  terms accepted by other city employee groups consisting of paying the full employee share of pension contributions into the California retirement system and reducing retirement benefits for future employees. But it balked when asked to reduce the employee work week from 40 to 38 hours, a proposal insisted upon by city manager Rod Foster, who since last November had overcome entrenched opposition among the city’s various employee unions in imposing economies that have entailed layoffs, pension and benefit reductions and in some cases salary cuts. These austerity measures have been coupled with manpower reductions by attrition – simply not hiring replacements for employees who retire or leave – to trim $5.3 million from last year’s budget, an amount equal to the revenue shortfall in 2010-11. There is a continuing need for Foster to be parsimonious, as the utility tax the city had come to depend on in years past sunsetted on July 1.

Colton is unique among San Bernardino County’s 24 cities in that it owns its own electrical utility. There has been considerable attrition among the ranks of electrical utility workers and it cannot sustain any further losses of workers, which Foster indicated could result in electrical outages. For that reason, he had to take a tough line in driving down personnel costs in the utility division, which will allow him to hire a few more workers.

The council voted 6-0 to authorize Foster to impose the contract. Councilman Frank Gonzales, who has relatives working for the city, abstained from the vote.

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