That’s why Service Employees International Union Local 1021 filed a ballot initiative last week that seeks to raise the minimum wage to $15 for all San Franciscans by 2017. It’s part of our larger platform to tackle economic inequality in The City. That includes wages, housing, health care and transportation.
It includes fair pay for The City’s own workers and enough staffing to keep San Franciscans healthy and safe. But economic inequality is the defining issue of our time, and it’s bigger than just one labor contract.
The Chamber of Commerce called the wage initiative “unconscionable.” But what’s really unconscionable is the current San Francisco minimum wage of $10.74 — a poverty-level wage that makes it impossible to afford housing in our high-cost region. Renting a one-bedroom apartment in The City today requires a job that pays $29.83 an hour, a new study shows.
San Francisco now has the fastest-rising rate of income inequality in the country. This is a wealthy city. There are, as of 2014, 29 billionaires with homes in San Francisco and many big corporations with huge revenue and profits. The rich are doing fine. We are obligated as a city to support our lower- and middle-income residents, too.
Mayor Lee, where is your action plan to combat inequality? Why hasn’t this become your top priority?
Low-wage workers in San Francisco suffer not only from their inadequate pay, but also from inadequate health care. This includes not just the unemployed and underemployed, but many hourly, nonprofit and public-sector workers.
Since these San Franciscans often lack employer-paid health insurance, they are the most likely to use public hospitals, community clinics and other public-health services. That puts immense pressure on the city workers who provide those services. Nurses, caregivers and 911 dispatchers have all protested unsafe staffing levels and poor management this month.
The nurses reported that there were no shifts in the year 2013 — exactly zero — with adequate numbers of nurses and other caregivers at the San Francisco General Hospital emergency room. On every single shift, The City violated its own safe-staffing guidelines, as well as California’s staffing ratios.
When there aren’t enough caregivers, patients suffer. We’ve seen patients go missing. When there are not enough nursing providers, elderly patients with dementia are sometimes tied up in restraints for hours on end so they don’t fall out of bed.
If you are a typical San Francisco resident heading to San Francisco General in an ambulance, there is a good chance you will be diverted away. In January, the ER was closed to new patients half the time because the hospital does not have the budget for enough beds and staff to meet the needs of our patients.
SEIU Local 1021 is also asking for a pay increase for its own workers — a raise that will help keep up with the cost of living and make up for the deep cuts union members have accepted over the past decade. In tough times, our members gave back. Now that The City is booming and the wealthy are doing better than ever, it’s time for the rest of us to get a chance to catch up. Can’t a city this rich afford to pay its workers enough to live in communities they serve?
Economic inequality is the issue of our times. It is time for City Hall and the mayor to come stand with us in our fight to make San Francisco livable for everyone.
Larry Bradshaw is a San Francisco para-medic and vice president of SEIU Local 1021.