Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/27/2010 09:39:44 PM PDT

RIALTO – The union representing city Water Department employees says the City Council will put jobs at risk and lose control over the city’s water rates if it approves an agreement with a private company to run its water, wastewater and recycled water systems.

“Our members have mounted a campaign to speak in opposition to what they want to do,” said Tom Ramsey, a supervising labor representative for the San Bernardino Public Employees Association.

The council at a 4 p.m. workshop today will consider selecting American Water to run its water services, and to authorize a council subcommittee to enter negotiations with the company.

Ramsey said he is concerned that any proposed contract with a private company would not necessarily protect what he estimates are about 25 department workers the union represents.

A final request for proposals from the Rialto Utility Authority earlier this year said the agency that takes over the department would be obligated to extend offers of employment to current personnel with a guaranteed term of 18 months.

It also said the offers would include competitive salary and benefits subject to the agency’s standard terms of employment, and the agency wouldn’t be required to hire or pay city personnel after the 18 months.

“There’s no guarantee that those safeguards will be in the contract,” Ramsey said.

The union has produced two fliers slamming the potential agreement as a move that would not only cut jobs and cause uncontrolled rate increases, but also a loss of quality customer service.

Councilman Ed Scott, who, with Councilman Joe Baca Jr., sits on the subcommittee overseeing the proposed transaction, said Monday he was disappointed with the union’s officials, adding that he doesn’t believe they have been acting in good faith on behalf of their employees.

“Folks are not going to lose their jobs. That’s an absolute untruth,” Scott said. “That doesn’t mean they are going to have a job with the city of Rialto necessarily.”

Scott said American Water has conducted similar transactions with other municipalities, and the company suggested that as the employees leave the public sector for the private, the deal could potentially mean better pay and benefits.

American Water also has mentioned that the transaction could result in an additional nine jobs, Scott said.

Scott and Ramsey disagree over the implication of American Water wanting the department’s employees to fill out applications for the company.

“That’s applying for a job. That’s not (the company) taking them,” Ramsey said.

Scott said the application process allows the company to conduct background checks on the employees.

He said that for those employees who do not want to work for the company, the city would consider allowing them to transfer to the maintenance division of Public Works, where several retirements are coming up at the end of this year.

Scott warned that if the city doesn’t find ways to downsize its government, there will be future layoffs anyway.

Officials have expressed concern about what they say are the growing costs of maintaining the city’s water and wastewater systems.

Sluggish tax revenues and retirement enhancements set to kick in next year are just some of the economic difficulties that are spurring the city’s leaders to scrape up cash wherever they can.

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