Saturday, May 28, 2011 – 08:52 a.m.

San Bernardino County seems to be going in a circle in it’s hope to secure uniform labor concessions from its employee unions, while at the same time political power struggles affect the situation.

A situation that will complicate the county’s financial condition and impact operations.

The county is virtually left with the limited options of shorter work weeks and layoffs.

The county’s bargaining position of “This is what we want, or else.” was a non-starter from the beginning.


Unlike city unions, county unions have been through tough times and wield more political sway.

And above all else, they have longer memories.

With the exception of San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters Local 935, all other county unions have balked at deep cuts. Primarily because it’s taken the unions so long to achieve a somewhat fair wage.

The county firefighters agreement includes a “me too” clause, meaning all other unions must agree to the same concessions, or the fire unions cuts are null and void.

The firefighters also have the flexibility to supplant any cuts by way of a significant overtime stream.

The county even passed a proposal to reduce the compensation of its exempt salaried management that included the “me too” clause.

Can you say ridiculous?

So come July 1, 2011, just 33 days from now, the county will have secured a big fat zero in future savings.

Why you ask?

Because three unions, specifically the San Bernardino Public Employees Association (SBPEA), San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association (SEBA) and San Bernardino County Public Attorneys Association (SBCPAA), are distrustful of the county.

All the county has done is threaten with a heavy hand, and called the unions stupid for giving up previously agreed to raises.

The county’s largest union, SBPEA, with a contract in place until 2014, has told the county no thank you. The groups new president seems to be taking a stand.

The next union, SEBA, has a contract set to expire in March 2012. Somehow the union gave up its “evergreen clause” which would have continued the existing language until March 2013.

Instead SEBA, absent an agreement, will now be subject to an imposed contract next year.

And last, but not least, SBCPAA was cajoled into giving up raises last year to “avert layoffs”. They did, SEBA didn’t, and SEBA members were not layed off.

Can you say mislead?

All of this out of shear stubbornness to shrink the county workforce.

Political complications

On the political front, a majority of county supervisors, Josie Gonzales, Gary Ovitt and Janice Rutherford, appear ready to indiscriminately swing the axe on the unions, Gonzales sports an $800,000 campaign war-chest, while Ovitt and Rutherford were just re-elected and could care less.

Rutherford, specifically, didn’t receive any real support from the county unions in her successful challenge of former Supervisor Paul Biane, and transmits the persona that they all have it coming.

The other two members of the board, Brad Mitzelfelt and Neil Derry, have smaller war chests and face re-election in June 2012.

What complicates matters is the fact their colleagues in the “three-vote majority” are quietly working to knock them off.

Gonzales recently key-noted an event for Victorville Mayor Ryan McEachron. Yes, Gonzales, not Mitzelfelt. An event underwritten by Buck Johns, CEO of Newport Beach-based Inland Energy. The company that’s benefited the most from Victorville’s financial demise.

Johns wants into the county treasury and Mitzelfelt isn’t playing ball.

Derry, on the other hand, has aggravated Ovitt and Gonzales with his “embarrassing to them” reform agenda. Both supes have vigorously fought Derry behind-the-scene. The two basically view Derry as a pain in the ass.

The only comical scenario that has emerged is Gonzales’ reform platform.

Yes, Gonzales the born-again reformer, has proposed a series of changes to improve ethics in county government.

You can always tell when a politician’s in trouble. They propose reform measures.

One of Gonzales’ reforms, specifically that of campaign finance limits, is absolutely hilarious!

Especially when it’s coming from someone who has a campaign account approaching $1 million.

Rutherford is basically being lead by the nose by Gonzales and Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, a Gonzales friend and confidant.

All three women served together on the Fontana City Council.

So things continue down the path of distrust and deceit for San Bernardino County.

It’s likely not going to change anytime soon.