City Hall seeks truce for Rec and Park, gardeners 

click to enlarge City gardeners say the Recreation and Park Department has mismanaged an apprenticeship program. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • City gardeners say the Recreation and Park Department has mismanaged an apprenticeship program.

City officials on Wednesday attempted to tamp down a “big problem” between a labor union and the Recreation and Park Department over a gardener apprentice program.

The conflict was evident during a Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing. Even though Rec and Park chief Phil Ginsburg said he is fully committed to the program, the union representing gardeners, Laborers International Union of North America Local 261, called that into question.

Union gardeners say the program suffers from a lack of resources, such as equipment or a permanent meeting room, and a failure to hire participants. Participants complete 4,000 hours of training while taking 360 hours of City College of San Francisco coursework paid for by the union. The cost to Rec and Park is $2.2 million annually.
City officials say every eligible apprentice has been hired, which has been eight since the program began in 2010.

“We believe in this program,” Ginsburg said. “We want those people in our system.”

Supervisor John Avalos, who called the hearing, said there is a “big problem right now” between Ginsburg and the union that needs to be worked out. The conflict is unusual. Generally, the union and Ginsburg are on the same page politically, Avalos said.

Amid the strained relations, union members also suggested the department was suffering from cronyism, but when pressed by Supervisor Eric Mar they were unable to provide specific examples. Mar said he thought the department was reasonably addressing union concerns and asked to calm the “level of antagonism” seen in recent weeks. Last month, the union fired off to elected city officials a scathing letter aimed at Ginsburg.

Longtime gardener Joan Vellutini said the department should show a commitment to the program by hiring more apprentices to fill the shortage of gardeners.

Rec and Park is about 200 gardeners short of the staff level needed to properly maintain the 4,000 acres under its supervision.

The debate is likely to continue in deliberations over the department’s budget as part of the Board of Supervisors’ review of Mayor Ed Lee’s budget submission due June 3.

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