San Francisco, SEIU disputing city employee wage cuts

Getty Images File PhotoIf San Francisco and union officials can't agree on wage cuts by March 11 then they will go before an arbitrator.

Getty Images File PhotoIf San Francisco and union officials can't agree on wage cuts by March 11 then they will go before an arbitrator.

The City’s effort to reduce the pay for certain future public employees is in line with market rates for those jobs, but the proposal would disproportionately affect the earning power of women and minorities, union officials told city leaders Wednesday.

In December, The City moved to reduce the pay for about 45 classes of workers — including custodians, nurses and pharmacists — who earn more in San Francisco than in other cities.

The pay cuts would affect only future hires, but they touch a nerve because they are jobs that are disproportionately held by women and minorities, who fought hard in the 1980s to win pay equity. They’re also workers represented by Service Employees International Union 1021, a politically powerful union with strong connections to The City’s progressives lawmakers.

“The largest area where we are overmarket is [workers represented by] SEIU,” said Micki Callahan, director of the Department of Human Resources. Other jobs — such as those of local police officers, who are paid 8 percent above market rates — are also overmarket, she added, but in line with the cost of living in San Francisco.

Pay for most city employees has doubled since the late 1980s, but some jobs traditionally held by men still pay more than jobs that are for the most part held by women. For example, painters in San Francisco earn $74,724 a year compared to vocational nurses, who start at $70,876 now but would start at $67,332 under The City’s proposal.

The City is pushing for wage cuts that would save $76,223 over the next two fiscal years, which would start July 1. But since the cuts apply to future hires who would be paid at a lower rate than current employees — some of whom are scheduled to retire — there would be more savings over the long run, according to Susan Gard, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources.

Union officials are asking for wage increases totaling $9.6 million over the next two years. Callahan added that in negotiations, union officials want market rates considered for increases but want the market ignored when it comes to pay cuts.

“We ignore the market at our peril,” she said.

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement by March 11, the salary fight will go before an arbitrator.

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