City Hall Watch: Resistance to privatization could cost city millions

The City could lose up to $5 million this fiscal year if a plan to contract out for private security guards at San Francisco General Hospital and other medical clinics is shot down amid pressure by an influential labor union.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed $6.5 billion budget closed a $338 million projected deficit and included a proposal to contract out services to replace security guards at San Francisco General Hospital, Laguna Honda Hospital and other clinics. The plan would result in an estimated savings of up to $5 million this fiscal year and up to $8 million in the subsequent year.

The plan, however, is being met with resistance from members of the Board of Supervisors, which on Tuesday postponed a vote on the proposal until next week.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, chair of the of board’s budget committee, said if the plan doesn’t pass then he will have to cut $5 million from “a lot of the programs that people care about: AIDS programs, things for kids.”

McGoldrick saidthat the labor union representing the security guards — the local chapter of Service Employees International Union — had engaged in “very strong” lobbying efforts and supervisors’ votes are being influenced by “political ambitions.”

The SEIU union is politically influential as one of the largest city unions, representing about 13,000 city employees.

Supervisor Chris Daly, who is opposed to the plan, suggested instead using $5 million from The City’s operating budget reserve account, money set aside for unforeseen expenses to avoid contracting out for guards.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd called Daly’s proposal “one of the most irresponsible, fiscally imprudent ideas I have ever heard proposed in these chambers.”

Elsbernd said that using the reserve money could have The City starting off the fiscal year with “zero dollars” in the reserve account.

Robert Haaland, SEIU political coordinator, said private security jeopardizes the safety of patients and staff since it has “high turn around, little training” and lacks the authority to make arrests.

“You don’t see them using private security to guard them at City Hall, do you?” Haaland said.

The union and supervisors may discuss a compromise in the coming days.

IN OTHER ACTION

Supervisor Carmen Chu introduced a resolution urging the San Francisco Unified School District to reconsider the current school assignment system for K-12 admissions and incorporate geographic considerations for school placement. It comes following a report critical of the system and suggesting kids should be assigned to schools near their homes.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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