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Union rallies at City Hall to call attention to SF’s wealth gap

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Members of IFPTE Local 21 huddle together on the steps of City Hall on Thursday to mark the beginning of contract negotiations with The City. (Victor Tence/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Labor set the stage Thursday for contract negotiations with The City in a rally calling attention to the high-cost of living, which is driving out the middle class.

The rally came as The City races to reach 27 different contract agreements with 37 unions affecting roughly 30,000 workers before a May 15 deadline set by the City Charter.

“While The City and County of San Francisco are often presented as a strong political voice on the issues of inequality that plague our national economy, it is failing to close the gap as our city’s largest employer,” Gus Vallejo, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21 President, said in a statement.

IFPTE Local 21, which hosted the rally, represents 5,600 workers, such as architects, engineers, planners and IT professionals.

Vallejo said that while The City is seeing strong revenue growth, “it’s employees are being driven out of The City by skyrocketing rents, stagnant wages and increased outsourcing of what were once middle class jobs.” While revenue for The City and County has grown to $10.4 billion — twice what it was in 2005 — the percentage of the total budget spent on labor has dropped to 41 percent from the previous year’s 44 percent, according to the union.

Local 21 said its workers “have seen their wages fall to more than 6.5 percent below CPI. Now, a small and shrinking minority of these workers are able to live in San Francisco even as The City has dramatically increased its use of outsourcing contractors.”

Notably, supervisors Norman Yee, Vallie Brown, Gordon Mar, Rafael Mandelman and Sandra Fewer came out in support of the union at Thursday’s rally.

“This wealth gap is really bad, we need to do something about this, not only for Local 21 workers, not only for labor itself, but all of San Francisco … people are suffering in this city because people can’t afford to live here,” said Board of Supervisors President Yee.

Union leaders declined to state specifically what they are demanding of The City at this time. But generally, they will negotiate for wage increases, reduced hiring of temporary employees and outsourcing, a higher investment in the employee development fund, policies against discrimination and community benefit proposals such as affordable housing and addressing homelessness.

Despite The City’s strong revenue growth and booming local economy, a recent city budget report said government spending is outpacing revenue growth, resulting in a projected $107.4 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, and $163.4 million in the following fiscal year. In five years, the deficit is expected to exceed $640 million.

Mayor London Breed must balance the negotiations with her budget priorities, which include addressing homelessness, housing affordability and equity of opportunity, according to Susan Gard, chief of policy for San Francisco’s Department of Human Resources. The City must also supporting a struggling Housing Authority.

“Our employees are our greatest asset … We will all have to compromise in this process, but with good faith and creativity we will reach agreements,” Gard said.

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