All of us are likely to become fed up with this space repeatedly being obliged to point out that some distasteful new San Francisco budget cut is probably the “least worst” of any available choices. With Mayor Gavin Newsom struggling against the June 1 deadline to prepare a budget balancing next fiscal year’s $522 million deficit, no easy cuts remain.
Every takeaway remaining is guaranteed to enrage some group or another. And the years ahead look just as grim, thanks to City Hall’s long history of financial roulette combined with the Sacramento gridlock that has made California the poster child for dysfunctional state government.
The latest example of difficult choices in San Francisco is Newsom’s proposal to shorten the workweek for 12,000 city employees from 40 to 37.5 hours. He defends his plan as a practical way to avoid the “worse idea” of “thousands of layoffs” by saving as much as $50 million.
SEIU Local 1021 — which represents 14,000 of The City’s 26,000 employees, more than half the municipal work force — calls the shorter workweek an underhanded way for the mayor to arbitrarily cut salaries 6.25 percent. It charges that worker morale is being sabotaged by a lack of early details about whose hours would be cut.
Newsom’s plan calls for laying off thousands of workers and promptly rehiring them — with 2½ fewer work hours each week and their retirement benefits reduced in proportion to the lower wages.
“We are proposing to keep people employed by changing the workweek,” the mayor said. “We cannot tax our way out and we cannot borrow our way out” of these consecutive deficits.
The union rejected the same lessening of work hours when Newsom floated it as part of last year’s negotiations for $50 million in pay cuts — of which SEIU did contribute $15 million. If “thousands of layoffs” prove to be the only practical alternative to shortening the workweek of more than half The City’s employees, then the mayor is correct in calling this “a better idea” — or at least an idea that’s not as bad.
The Examiner suggests that it would be helpful if SEIU members held a direct referendum on the proposal. If the union rank-and-file is truly willing to risk losing thousands of jobs instead of a payroll reduction, then that would be their own choice.