Special Section: San Bernardino
SAN BERNARDINO - Relations between the city and its employees are strained, most of those involved in Monday's decision to impose cuts on several unions said Tuesday, but they see no viable choice.
"I think the choice was between keeping the city afloat while keeping as many public safety personnel on the streets versus the alternative - that's what those positions basically come down to," said Councilwoman Wendy McCammack, who for years has been a close ally of employee groups but recently has taken several votes opposed by the police and fire unions.
"We're not going to make everyone happy," McCammack said. "We have a moral and an intellectual responsibility to put the taxpayers first while doing everything in our power to make sure employees want to work here."
The cuts to police include requiring they pay 50percent of the cost to the California Public Employee Retirement System - amounting to a 13.989percent pay cut - have taken a heavy toll on already battered relationships, according to Steve Turner, president of the police union.
"(Morale is) horrible, and members are feeling like the city has taken a stance that the employees are not important," Turner said.
Money should be cut from other parts of the budget, Turner said, noting the number of police has fallen from 350 to fewer than 260 because officers are looking for other jobs and not being replaced.
But he didn't have any specific suggestions on how else to balance what was a $45.8million deficit before cuts began, and nearly two-thirds of the city's General Fund comes from salaries and benefits.
That's something most workers understand, but they're not happy about it, said George Swift, coordinator for the Pasadena-based local of the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents the city's general employees.
"Our folks understand how bad the situation is - they see it firsthand," Swift said. "I'd say they don't feel mistreated so much as they don't know what's going on. They don't seem to get enough information from the city."
Swift acknowledged, too, that his members aren't residents' top priority.
"When you ask taxpayers why they pay their taxes, they say for police and fire," Swift said. "They don't say it about the clerk who works in the city or the guy who picks up the trash."
Most workers, Mayor Pat Morris believes, don't resent the tough choices the city is making as it fights to get the protection of bankruptcy court and balance its budget.
"Quite the opposite, actually," Morris said. "The council last night voted courageously for the future of this city. That's the bottom line. ... If we don't do that, we fail to get into bankruptcy and we'll likely liquidate as a city."
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