Godofredo Vasquez/2012 s.f. examiner file photoDozens of labor unions negotiating new contracts with San Francisco have pointed to the improving economy and the rising cost of living as they seek more benefits.

SF labor unions asking for pay raises amid hostile cost-of-living environment

Pointing to a soaring cost of living throughout the Bay Area, San Francisco’s largest city employee union has emerged as an outspoken critic of the Twitter tax break and commuter tech shuttles while more quietly making demands for pay increases and other job benefits in labor contract negotiations.

Among the 27 labor groups negotiating new contracts with The City, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 has proposed for its estimated 12,000 members $356 million in increased costs to San Francisco during the next three years. About half of that would go toward raises and the remainder toward benefits such as free Wi-Fi and Muni passes, along with making part-time workers full time, according to the Department of Human Resources.

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The message from labor leaders might sound familiar to BART riders who endured two transit strikes last year: When times were bad, workers made concessions; now that things have improved, it’s time to pay up.

City workers, however, are barred from striking under the City Charter.

But with San Francisco’s tech-fueled economy helping to boost the cost of living and housing — rents are some of the highest in the nation and evictions are increasing — labor says city employees should get a 5 percent pay increase next fiscal year.

Another labor group, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, has launched a campaign called “Forced Out — A San Francisco for Everyone?” It says its middle-income members cannot afford to live here.

Over the past 10 years, employee salaries have fallen 11 percent below the cost-of-living increases, said Bob Muscat, Local 21’s executive director. Muscat said as Mayor Ed Lee talks about helping out the middle class, “He ought to start with the people that work for him.”

The union represents about 4,000 city workers such as planners, architects and engineers.

While negotiations continue, SEIU Local 1021 is planning a rally Tuesday outside Twitter and City Hall to denounce the mid-Market Street tax break.

The union has fought the commuter shuttles used by Google and other tech companies, demanding an environmental study before legalizing their use of Muni bus stops for a small fee. Both efforts have highlighted the political and cultural tensions resulting from an economy fueled by a booming technology industry that is being blamed for pricing longtime residents out of San Francisco.

“We don’t mind them being here,” said Larry Bradshaw, a paramedic and vice president of SEIU Local 1021, of tech companies like Twitter. “What we don’t like is sweetheart deals.”

Bradshaw argues that without the Twitter tax break and with a greater fee for using Muni stops, the tech boom would continue.

Bradshaw also noted that his union’s requested pay raise of about $150 million over three years is simply the cost-of-living increase plus about 3 percent each year to make up for $120 million worth of concessions workers have made since 2009.

And as for the SEIU’s effort announced this week to place a $15-per-hour minimum wage measure on the November ballot, Bradshaw said that while it likely wouldn’t impact their members, it’s still part of the overall dialogue about income inequality.

The City’s own financial analysts say the local economy will continue to grow for at least the next four years, fueled by the tech sector.

San Francisco is projecting that revenue from business and property taxes will increase by 26 percent between fiscal year 2012-13 and fiscal year 2017-18. That revenue is anticipated to climb to $2.96 billion during that time, an increase of $613.4 million. But The City’s own expenses are also rising, creating budget deficits requiring spending cuts.

If that 5 percent pay increase is granted for next fiscal year, for instance, city officials say the budget deficit would immediately increase from $67 million and $133 million in fiscal years 2014-15 and 2015-16, respectively, to approximately $148 million and $260 million.

“We have proposed a wage increase at all the tables that would allow us to grow at a more sustainable, affordable pace,” said Susan Gard, chief of policy for the Department of Human Resources.

Local 21 officials said The City proposed a 0.5 percent pay increase next fiscal year for its members, and the SEIU said its members were offered 4 percent over 2½ years.

But labor leaders say The City has historically underestimated revenue and over-projected expenditures. They are turning to their own economists to make their case that San Francisco can afford the pay hikes without having to cut services.

If negotiations do not resolve all issues, they go into binding arbitration, which for the larger unions would begin April 21, Gard said.

Bay Area NewsSan Francisco city workersSan Francisco cost of livingSEIUUnder the Dome

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