San Bernardino Judge Accuses Fire Union of ‘Stonewalling’

San Bernardino’s firefighters are “stonewalling” negotiations in the California city’s bankruptcy, said a federal judge, who refused to immediately give their union permission to sue in state court.

San Bernardino has either cut deals with, or is in talks with, almost all of its major creditors. Since the city filed for bankruptcy in 2012, the firefighters have fought over a variety of technical questions, including what rules should govern any contract-related negotiations.

“I see the stonewalling coming from the firefighters,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury said at a hearing today in Riverside, California.

After filing for bankruptcy, the city had been mired in conflict with unions and its biggest creditor, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which it owes about $143 million, according to court papers. In June, San Bernardino’s lawyers told Jury that the city had a final deal with Calpers and was in talks with the police union.

To put together a debt-adjustment plan that will return the community of about 200,000 to fiscal stability, the city must either win over the unions or beat them in court.

Final Offer

San Bernardino has said that if the firefighters reject its final offer, the city will ask Jury to cancel the current union contract. So far, however, it has been unable to meet with the firefighters to present the final offer.

Corey Glave, a lawyer for the firefighters, blamed the city in court today and complained about how San Bernardino officials have communicated with the union. The union has asked Jury for permission to sue the city in state court, where the union has won labor lawsuits in the past.

Jury refused, saying she may consider the request again in September after the two sides meet. She ordered the city and the firefighters to hold formal talks over the latest offer.

The two sides have negotiated in confidential mediation sessions overseen by a different federal judge.

San Bernardino, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, was the third California city to file for bankruptcy in a three-month span in 2012. It cited a fiscal emergency brought on by a $46 million budget shortfall caused in part by the real estate crisis.

The case is In re San Bernardino, 12-bk-28006, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Central District of California (Riverside).

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