More city furlough sign-ups needed

When shared sacrifices are being called upon for the greater good, it seems only right that the leaders calling for that sacrifice should set a good example and be the first to take cutbacks themselves. Unfortunately, such public-spirited behavior can be all too rare.

But at least the San Francisco city government can now point to one good example of upper-echelon sacrifice in response to the projected $305 million budget deficit for the 2008-09 fiscal year. The 900 members of the Municipal Executives’ Association, whose salaries generally top $100,000, have stepped up and agreed to take five mandatory unpaid days off during each of the next two years.

The MEA will also defer their $1 million in raises for next year until 2009-10.

This agreement with Mayor Gavin Newsom will save The City nearly $4 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and another $3 million in 2009-10. In addition, the mayoral staff and other unrepresented employees will not receive a wage increase in next year’s budget. The Union of American Physicians and Dentists membership is also accepting unpaid days off.

In April, Newsom requested all city employee unions renegotiate contracts and reduce costs by 3 percent by choosing among a variety of options. If the 12,562 city employees paid through the general fund took four days off next year, The City could save as much as  $26.5 million.

Unfortunately — though not too surprisingly — there has not exactly been a rush to return to the bargaining table. A City Hall insider told The Examiner on Wednesday that larger unions are waiting until the mayor delivers his required balanced-budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors by the June 2 deadline.

It is also possible that the labor foot-dragging might just be a hard-line negotiating tactic to wring more concessions from City Hall as final deadlines loom. In past budget crunches, The City’s biggest civil-service unions have made short-term givebacks in exchange for permanent contract gains.

These business-as-usual deals that deliver temporary minor fiscal relief with costly strings attached are not what The City should be bluffed into accepting. It is in the best interest of the union members, as well as for everyday San Francisco taxpayers, that everybody works together toward saving The City from this endless boom-bust budgetary cycle.

Hard bargaining over these much-needed furloughs is only to be expected, but ultimately the unions must do what they need to do in order to prevent any of their members from being laid off — which would be the only choice left if there is no cooperation.

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