Monopoly Bargaining Hurts Everyone

San Bernadino Firefighter union boss ignores the facts and demands the city come up with more revenue, depsite the fac the city filed for bankruptcy in 2012.  Monopoly bargaining is sanctioned by a charter which calls for government employee salaries to be decided by an archaic formula which has allowed for government employee raises even during its bankruptcy proceedings.  Scott Shackleford has the story on

Contributing to the city’s financial problems, along with the typical rising costs of employee pensions and benefits, was an entrenched rule in the city charter that put control of public safety employee wages out of the hands of city leaders. It was instead formulated via a calculation to match the average of nearby (much wealthier) cities, prompting on occasion the City Council to have to approve raises for some employees even while trying to deal with the bankruptcy process.

The city put a measure on the ballot last November to attempt to amend the city charter to allow for collective bargaining of public safety wages like every other city. The public safety unions fought the effort, loudly, particularly the firefighters. The measure failed. San Bernardino is still stuck with the charter rule.

It’s also left with firefighters and police officers who make very high salaries that are simply out of proportion with what a city in San Bernardino’s poor financial shape can reasonably offer. The average firefighter in is making more than $100,000 annually in total compensation and benefits while the average median household income for San Bernardino families is just about $38,000. According to 2013 income data, only a little over 10 percent of the households in San Bernardino have annual incomes over $100,000.


As a result, San Bernardino spends an overwhelming amount of its budget on public safety.
Most residents would logically see police and firefighters as the reason to have a city government in the first place. But as the Los Angeles Times noted in a recent in-depth look at San Bernardino’s woes, these public safety expenses are tellingly out of proportion: “By 2012 the city was spending 72 percent of its general fund on the Police and Fire Departments, mostly on salaries and pensions – compared to Los Angeles, which spends 59 percent of its general fund on those services. More than half the sworn fire personnel earn more than $150,000 a year according to city records.”

Yet, the firefighters remain a thorn in the side of fixing the problem. When the effort to change the city’s charter rule failed, the local fire union president responded that the vote was a rejection of budget cuts and concluded, “It’s time for city leaders to immediately begin working on solutions that will generate new revenues and economic development for the city.”

But the city is gutting its other services in order to meet the obligations to its public safety departments. It had to stop sweeping its streets in June because it couldn’t afford it. San Bernardino’s poverty makes a joke out of any goal to raise more revenue quickly. Only 519 households in this city of 213,000 can boast incomes of greater than $200,000 a year.

In order to pull itself out of bankruptcy, San Bernardino’s plan includes potentially privatizing or outsourcing services like trash collection, emergency services and, yes, firefighting.

The stubbornness of the union representing the firefighters could get them booted entirely. They have confused a math problem with a political problem.