Posted: 08/17/2011 01:38:57 AM PDT

COLTON – The city imposed new contracts on electrical and water employees Tuesday night after a breakdown in negotiations over furlough days.

The agreements with the two employee groups, which the city staff estimate will save taxpayers a collective $312,000 per year, complete Colton’s yearlong effort to wring concessions from all eight employee groups in order to bring its expenses in line with reduced revenue.

Cities have the legal power to impose their “last, best and final offer” on union members when they reach an impasse on certain parts of a contract, but that point is rarely reached. Representatives of the city and the union both said that in decades-long careers with multiple cities, this was the first contract they had seen imposed.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents both groups, was willing to make the sacrifices that are hallmarks of the agreements the city has made with everyone else – paying the full employee share of contributions to the state retirement system and reducing retirement benefits for employees hired after the contract takes effect – said Stan Stossel, the union’s assistant business manager.

But he said reducing the workweek from 40 hours to 38 hours – which, combined with a 20-hour time bank at the beginning of each fiscal year, would amount to a 4-percent salary reduction on top of the other changes – was unacceptable.

“We have made concession after concession after concession, but this just doesn’t make sense,” Stossel said. “The city is backfilling positions at the same time it’s reducing our hours, which doesn’t make economic or philosophical sense.”

That’s especially true, Stossel said, given that wages below that offered by other cities and private companies has already led several employees to quit.

By leaving one out of 20 positions unfilled, he said, the city would achieve the equivalent of a 5-percent reduction – better, in fact, because it would not add to expenses such as workers’ compensation and sick time.

But City Manager Rod Foster said the department needed to hire new people or risk power outages and other problems.

“Economically, as your manager, I can’t fathom the argument of being able to say we should just not backfill positions when we know we’re understaffed,” he said.

In addition, he said, utility workers needed to be on the same schedule as their bosses, who already agreed to furloughs.

“Managers within the department are already furloughing, so we have staff that would be showing up before their managers, and that’s just not good management,” he said.

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