Big unions should help S.F., too

With the June 2 deadline for delivering a draft 2008-09 budget to the Board of Supervisors now upon Mayor Gavin Newsom, his office has continued grinding out giveback deals with city employee unions to help balance the projected $338 million budget deficit.

Successes so far have been limited to the smaller unions. But at least the first to step up have been the highest-paid managers and professionals, which is exactly how it should be when shared sacrifice is being called for.

The Municipal Attorneys Association is the latest group to come forward, tentatively agreeing to a deal to save The City $1.4 million per year by taking five unpaid furlough days during each of the next two fiscal years. The Municipal Executives’ Association and the Union of American Physicians & Dentists membership already signed up for the unpaid days off.

The Municipal Executives, whose salaries typically top $100,000, will also defer their $1 million raises for next year until 2009-10. The agreements will save The City nearly $4 million in the next fiscal year and another $3 million in 2009-10. Additionally, the mayoral staff and other unrepresented management employees will not receive next year’s wage increases.

Admirably welcome cooperation arrived too from Laborers 261, whose membership is made up of The City’s lowest-wage workers such as gardeners, custodians and craftsmen, among others. Local 261 agreed to defer next year’s apprenticeship and training programs, saving The City $1 million.

So what is missing from this heartening response to a mutual problem? Merely any help from San Francisco’s largest and most powerful unions. Where are the police and firefighters, the SEIU, the machinists and building trades? This is their city, too, and their members could well be among “the thousands, not the hundreds” laid off, according to Controller’s Office estimates.

It was April when Newsom began requesting all city employee unions renegotiate their contracts so as to reduce 2008-09 city labor costs by 3 percent. This could be done via a number of options, of which unpaid furloughs were the least disruptive. If all 12,562 city employees paid from the general fund took four days off next year, The City could save as much as $26.5 million.

The Police Officers Association, which last year negotiated a 23 percent raise over four years, has talked tough about not giving back any concessions it won in the deal. The firefighters union, which obtained 4 percent annual cost-of-living increases for the next two years, was more conciliatory, saying that reopening a contract during difficult years is “part of doing business.”

Hopefully, talks are going on quietly between City Hall and all the major unions; and sensible win-win agreements can be reached in time to help balance the final 2008-09 budget.

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