Stacia Glenn and Andrew Edwards, Staff Writers
Posted: 05/27/2010 06:19:52 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – In a jumpstart to negotiations that turned hostile the last go-round, police union leaders have volunteered to continue their concessions for two more years to help close the city’s $24 million budget deficit.

The San Bernardino Police Officers Association’s made the offer Monday during a meeting with a professional negotiator recently hired by the city.

“We wanted to be one of the first groups to the table to help the city out and close their gap,” said union president Rich Lawhead. “We’re willing to continue our concessions for two years without asking for any enhancements.”

Under an agreement approved last March, officers have each been picking up about $400 in monthly medical bills and $100 in uniform allowance.

In exchange, they receive a week’s worth of vacation time and four hours weekly of bankable time off that cannot be sold back to the city.

Their concessions saved San Bernardino $3.3 million last year and helped the Police Department avoid layoffs.

City Hall officials were reluctant to say whether they expect to accept the police union’s proposal or to share administrators’ views on negotations. Calls seeking comment were referred to city spokeswoman Heather Gray.

“All options are on the table so we’re not discounting that option. But nothing, obviously, has been decided yet,” Gray said in a telephone message.

San Bernardino administrators negotiated pay concessions from all employees for the current fiscal year. High-level administrators and employees outside of the Police and Fire departments took 10 percent pay cuts that were accomplished by closing City Hall on Fridays and reducing employees’ work schedules by four hours.

The concessions expire June 30. Unlike previous years, San Bernardino’s City Council has approved the hiring of consultants to handle labor talks. The Los Angeles-based firm of Atkinson, Loya, Ruud and Romo may be paid as much as $30,000 to meet with police and fire unions.

It’s unclear why the city decided to hire a consultant for talks with the unions, but negotiations in 2009 resulted in months of public feuding and a lawsuit.

Tensions boiled over last year when city officials threatened to lay off 49 officers if the union did not agree to a 10 percent pay cut.

Although that proposal was eventually tabled, the union hosted a reverse job fair where they invited other law enforcement agencies to recruit San Bernardino police officers.

The union then sued the city after a week-long furlough where they lost four hours of pay. Although a judge rejected their suit, the union is appealing.

“I don’t think the Police Department is unique or special in the city. I think every city employee is hurting,” Lawhead said. “The city continues to pass the offering plate to its employees instead of making some tough decisions.”

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