Four days off could save millions

San Francisco could shave as much as $26.5 million from the projected $338 million budget deficit if 12,562 employees were required to take four unpaid days off from work next fiscal year.

The labor unions that represent these employees — who are paid from The City’s general fund and provide basic services such as police, fire, gardening, street cleaning and health services — would have to accept the mandatory furlough.

Facing a projected $338 million deficit for the next fiscal year, Mayor Gavin Newsom sent a letter to labor unions representing city workers April 22 asking them to renegotiate labor contracts and agree to cost reductions adding up to 3 percent. The mayor advised them to consider a number of options, including a furlough.

“Many unions have agreed to sit down and discuss the mayor’s request, but no union has yet agreed to concessions,” Newsom’s spokeswoman Giselle Barry said.

If San Francisco excluded those employees working in public safety departments, which have mandated staffing levels, it would reduce the savings to $14.2 million, according to a memo from the Controller’s Office.

Both figures are for employees paid through The City’s general fund operations budget, and does not include workers in enterprise departments that generate their own revenues, such as the airport and the Port of San Francisco. Mandatory four-day furloughs for all city and county employees would generate $44.3 million in cost savings, according to the report.

The labor contracts currently prohibit mandatory furloughs, according to the controller’s memo.

The idea to examine the cost savings of a mandatory furlough was suggested by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who recommended the furlough take place during the week between Christmas and New Year’s days.

“Of the various cuts that we are going to have to make, this is one that can be done with the least amount of impact on The City’s taxpayers,” Elsbernd said.

The Controller’s Office report notes that the cost savings resulting from a mandatory furlough program would be “maximized and service disruption minimized” if each department were provided with the flexibility to decide which unpaid days during the year to choose.

With such flexibility The City could negotiate more unpaid days then four, Elsbernd said, suggesting 10.

If the labor contracts are not reopened and renegotiated, the alternative will be layoffs, Elsbernd said, warning that the numbers would be in “the thousands not the hundreds.”

It is not unusual for cities and counties to turn to furloughs when facing budget deficits, according to Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties.

San Francisco is not alone in its budget woes or in its attempt to convince labor unions to buy into work furloughs. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed layoffs and six days of unpaid leave to reduce the Southern California city’s $400 million shortfall.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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