SEIU Local 1021

Texas hotels more progressive than San Francisco’s?


Prop. J would increase San Francisco’s hotel tax of 14 percent – which is lower than such big cities as Seattle, Chicago, and New York — by 2 percent. Opponents of the measure, such as District 8 supervisorial candidate Scott Wiener, say they are concerned that San Francisco would have the highest such tax in the country and that tourism could suffer as a result.

Yet in the city that actually has the highest hotel tax, San Antonio, Texas – where the 16.75 percent rate would still be higher than San Francisco’s even if Prop. J passes – representatives of the hotels have been among the bigger supporters of the tax, unlike in San Francisco where hotels are leading the campaign to defeat Prop. J with help of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Dee Dee Poteete, the director of communications at the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Guardian there are more than 25 million people that visit that city each year, a number that held steady even after the tax was put in place in 1999. The tax rate was reauthorized two years ago, with the hotels in support.

“Our city provides a very full and rich vacation or meeting experience that is an extremely good investment for [visitors],” Poteete said when asked about how tourism in San Antonio is affected by the tax, revenue from which is currently used to help support and promote tourism. And like San Antonio, San Francisco is a rich destination with a large tourism industry. Supporters of the tax believe the tax will also help keep San Francisco attractive to tourists.

“Money will go back into the general fund, but tourists use the same city services such as Muni and the parks so the money is also going back to them,” Gabriel Haaland with SEIU Local 1021, which helped gathered signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, told us. “City services have been so dramatically cut that it would undermine the tourism industry if the city degraded and that’s what would deter tourists more than the $3 a night [that the measure would add to the average hotel bill].”

San Francisco Controller Ben Rosenfield has estimated that the revenue generated by the tax would be $38 million annually.

Former employees saw problems coming at Planned Parenthood Golden Gate

This week’s announcement that Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) was severing ties with Planned Parenthood Golden Gate (PPGG) came as no surprise to some former employees, who have for months been trying to sound the alarm that the chapter was being mismanaged, had major financial problems, and was in a steep decline that could threaten important reproductive care services that low-income women rely on.

A former PPGG employee with knowledge of the organization’s internal affairs described a longstanding pattern of financial mismanagement when former president and CEO Dian Harrison was at the helm. There was widespread concern about spending on expensive marketing campaigns and lavish functions, the person said, and a high level of employee turnover and discontent.

Warning signs of financial difficulties surfaced at least a year ago. Dan Cohen, a spokesperson of the Packard Foundation — a major donor to PPGG — told the Guardian that Packard awarded PPGG a 12-month, $30,000 “organizational effectiveness” grant, which will expire in September. The grant “allows an organization to select a talented, external provider to help them think through some of these challenges,” Cohen explained. The Packard Foundation also awarded a 3-year grant for general operating support for $800,000, which will also expire next month.

Another former employee told the Guardian that she would love to discuss internal problems, but was made to sign a confidentiality agreement upon leaving the organization.

Therese Wilson, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Golden Gate — who took over PPGG when Harrison left last year on medical leave — did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

An internal PPGG document provided to the Guardian displays the agency’s on-hand cash reserves as compared with other affiliates, suggesting that the reserve ratios were at or below the minimum required by the national Planned Parenthood federation for all but one year from 1998 to 2007 — and well below that of other affiliates of similar size. That is a key requirement for meeting accreditation standards.

When we asked Elizabeth Toledo, a PPFA representative, about this apparent pattern she said she could not comment because she had not seen the documents. She also said the accreditation reviews were confidential. “Understanding the true financial picture for health care providers takes a very in-depth evaluation,” Toledo said. “PPFA and PPGG were working together over the last few years to resolve fiscal challenges.”

Despite delays at the state level in awarding nonprofit funding and the loss of support from the national organization, Toledo and a union representative for PPGG employees both said they believe the clinics will continue serving patients under a different name.

“They plan to stay open, and employees are planning to stay,” said SEIU Local 1021 representative Sarah Sherpun-Zimmer, who has been a union rep for PPGG employees for the last two years. “Folks are really happy working there and they feel like it’s going in a good direction.”

PPGG operated eight clinics, which will lose their Planned Parenthood accreditation Sept. 3, effectively severing their ties to a trusted entity that thousands of low-income women rely upon for birth control, abortion procedures, and other forms of reproductive health care. PPGG operates clinics in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Sonoma, Marin, and Mendocino counties, serving about 55,000 women per year.

Roughly 92 percent of the clients they serve live at or below the federal poverty line, according to PPGG’s 2008 annual report.

Planned Parenthood affiliates Mar Monte and Shasta Diablo are in the process of hatching plans for taking over some of the eight affected clinics or otherwise growing their own operations to cover any gaps in service area, according to Toledo. She said neighboring affiliates are in a position financially to be able to cover a wider territory and added that they have been in “expansion mode,” adding new clinics over the past couple years.

“It’s unusual to have a disaffiliation,” she said. “But it’s not unusual for national committees to have a reallocation of service area. That part is well-practiced.” Toledo added that “Every effort possible will be made” to ensure continuity of care.

Nima Maghame contributed to this report.

Hidden health care costs of Adachi’s pension reform measure

New information about the health care costs associated with a pension reform measure backed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi suggests that the highest cost burden would fall to parents at the lowest end of the pay scale.

An analysis of the Adachi measure estimates that city employees with two or more dependents could face monthly healthcare cost increases of $220 a month, which would bring their total monthly contributions to $448, $765, or $1,630, depending on the health care plan. Dental care would bring those costs up an additional $82 per month.

Rael & Letson, an actuary firm hired to calculate premium contributions, completed the analysis on behalf of the Public Employees Committee of the San Francisco Labor Council. The city has not done a formal analysis of employee contribution increases to date.

Rael & Letson’s report estimates that for employees with a single dependent, the monthly employee contribution would go up an additional $240 under Kaiser, $352 under Blue Shield, and $419 under the city plan — bringing the total monthly contributions to $249, $473, and $1,098, respectively. Dental benefits would bring each of those costs up another $50 per month. That’s compared with current contribution levels of $8.84, $120, and $679 for employees in that category.

The analysis found that if approved, the policy change would result in “a relatively modest monthly out-of-pocket increase for Kaiser participants without dependents, but a significant shift in … costs paid by employees enrolled in other plans … especially those with employee + 1 dependent coverage. These increases could make covering dependents unaffordable for lower income employees.”
According to, a website run by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average employee contribution to a family health insurance premium in the state of California amounted to about $290 per month in 2009.

Whether or not these proposed increases are manageable depends of course on an employee’s salary, whether or not they have assistance from a spouse or family members, and other personal circumstances. In the case of a single mother with two or more children at the lower end of the pay scale, the spike in health care costs could force some very difficult choices.

Meanwhile, an analysis of the pension reform measure written by the director of San Francisco’s Health Service System (HSS) at the request of the city’s Department of Elections suggests that the measure could jeopardize an estimated $23 million in federal funding that is expected to be awarded annually for the next four years under the new federal healthcare reform bill. HSS administers healthcare benefits to city employees.

A new program created under federal healthcare reform — the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP) — is designed to ease employers’ financial burden of healthcare costs for retirees not eligible for Medicare. ERRP funds can be used reimburse 80 percent of claims between $15,000 and $90,000 for each retiree over 55 who isn’t eligible for Medicare. In San Francisco, this new federal subsidy amounts to an estimated $23 million annually over the next four years, which would be deposited into the city’s HSS trust fund and used to lower premium requirements.

The HSS memo warns that since Adachi’s measure proposes increasing employee healthcare contributions, “This proposed Charter amendment will therefore eliminate this anticipated subsidy of premium contributions not only for the City and County but also for City College and the Unified School District who are also employers within the San Francisco Health Service System.”

The memo also points out that just $53 million out of the $83 million in savings that the Adachi measure is expected to generate will go into the city’s General Fund, because more than a third of employees work for non-General Fund supported departments.

“If this Charter amendment becomes law, the balance of the contributions required to fully fund the HSS benefits will ultimately have to shift to the employees,” according to the HSS memo. “This Charter amendment does not address the underlying factors that will continue to drive increases in the cost of providing healthcare benefits.”

The recession has brought a recent spate of finger pointing at public-sector workers, and some might consider sharp healthcare cost increases to be a worthwhile tradeoff when it comes to the anticipated savings. Yet the decision to take more money out of the pockets of working people comes with its own set of consequences, which might be felt most acutely at the individual level but will also have a ripple effect on a broader economic scale.

Gabriel Haaland, an organizer with SEIU Local 1021, told the Guardian he believes that Adachi’s measure has been misrepresented as a pension-reform measure and ought to be discussed in the context of health care. “It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he said. Haaland added that he thought the sharp contribution increases would lead to more people opting out of healthcare benefits altogether, which could in turn place more of a strain on the city’s public healthcare system.

We contacted Adachi for comments, and we’ll be sure to post his response if and when we receive it.

Danger zone


Rita Connolly, a registered nurse who has worked with inmates in San Francisco jails since 1985, says she’ll never forget the time she had to act fast to save a prisoner’s life.

The man had just arrived from a different jail and was waiting to go through intake. He was slumped over and looking ill, too weak to voice a complaint. Several worried inmates beckoned Connolly over, and once she examined him, she realized he was in the midst of a heart attack. He was rushed to the emergency room. He lived — but sustained irreversible heart damage.

“He could have been someone who didn’t live,” Connolly told the Guardian, but he also could have had a better outcome. The inmate had alerted someone that he was having chest pains earlier in the day, she later learned, as he was boarding a bus from an Alameda County Jail. A medical services worker examined him just before the bus left, but allowed him to proceed. By the time he arrived in San Francisco, the warning signals had progressed to a full-blown heart attack.

The story highlights an extreme example of a trend Connolly said she observes regularly — inmates from counties that use privatized jail health services aren’t receiving the same standard of care that San Francisco provides. Sometimes, there are obvious signs that the care is inadequate, placing inmates’ health at risk.

Alameda’s jail health services contractor, Tennessee-based Prison Health Services Inc. (PHS), has made headlines before for a track record marred by inmate deaths and lawsuits alleging negligence. PHS has expressed interest in contracting with San Francisco if the city opened the door to privatization, which Mayor Gavin Newsom has once again proposed in his latest budget.

That budget also calls for cuts to community-based health and human service programs that threaten to erode the safety net for those battling mental health issues, drug addiction, and chronic health problems, all proposals now being weighed by the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee.

But it is the debate over whether to make a $11 million cut to jail health services that raises the most thorny and telling questions about what sacrifices are considered acceptable — and what populations can be the most easily targeted — in the quest to balance a budget without the tax increases that Newsom opposes.



In San Francisco, the city’s Department of Public Health contracts with the Sheriff’s Department to address inmates’ medical needs. Privatized jail health care would be cheaper, though by how much is a moving target. But nobody is arguing that the care would be better.

Newsom’s budget proposes switching to a private firm as early as January 2011 to help solve a daunting budget deficit. The proposal originated with the Mayor’s Office, and Sheriff Mike Hennessey — whose department would realize the potential savings — went along by including the item in his departmental budget.

In years past, the Board of Supervisors has repeatedly resisted the proposal and is likely to do so again — but rejecting it would mean finding up to $11 million in savings elsewhere.

“The fear is that when you bring privatization into the picture, there is a financial pressure to cut corners. And even though that may end up saving some money … the price that comes with it is too high,” Sup. David Campos said at a recent budget hearing. Referencing stories about inmates who died needlessly in jail under the care of for-profit firms, Campos said he isn’t willing to risk a similar tragedy occurring in San Francisco.

The proposal has been floated repeatedly since as far back as the early 1990s, according to healthcare workers whose jobs have been jeopardized by privatization before. Newsom proposed the cut last year, and the year before.

“In absence of the budget problem, [Hennessey] probably would not have proposed this, nor would we have proposed this,” Newsom’s budget director, Greg Wagner, told members of the Budget and Finance Committee at a May 26 hearing, adding that the mayor shares concerns about prisoner safety. Newsom’s office did not return multiple calls requesting comment for this story.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to a hear an appeal by the state of California to the federal court ruling that substandard medical care in California prisons constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and necessitates the early release of about 40,000 prisoners. At the May 26 hearing, healthcare workers familiar with the interiors of county jails and state penitentiaries came forward with horror stories.

“Every week I receive at least one inmate who has an open gunshot wound. They have not seen medical care in the county jails,” Dr. Elena Tootell, chief medical officer at San Quentin state prison, told committee members. “It’s quite surprising to me that they send inmates with gunshot wounds to prison. They just walk off the bus. They often have paper towels stuck to their bodies, seeping the blood. And then we are obligated to take care of them. This does not happen from San Francisco County, I’m going to tell you that right now.”

Tootell said she’d observed a significant difference between those counties using private firms and those using public health care. “They will have a fracture — they’ve never been splinted, they’ve never seen a doctor. They’re on anticoagulation [medication], but haven’t had their blood checked in weeks and have bruises all over their body.”

Connolly echoed similar concerns. For example, she told the Guardian, she’s found herself asking questions like, “You were on AIDS medication before you got arrested and now you’re not?”

Susanne Paradis, a healthcare research contractor with SEIU Local 1021, rejects the premise that the same services could be provided at a lower price. Under a private model, she says, the priority is to keep costs low — and that means doing less.

A key issue, Paradis said, is that private firms tend to rely more heavily on licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) — lower-paid medical staffers who aren’t trained to assess patient’s medical needs and cannot administer the same care that registered nurses (RNs) can. Using PHS data, Paradis found that in Alameda, there is one RN for every 92 inmates, compared with one RN per 32 inmates in San Francisco.

“An RN has the ability to assess, observe, and determine if there’s emergency care needed,” Paradis explained. “An LVN does not have the ability to do that.”

John Poh, a nurse practitioner stationed at a jail in San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, explained the difference this way: “The more RNs you have working for you, the fewer deaths you have.”

PHS, an obvious point of comparison with San Francisco since it serves Alameda, declined to answer questions about its services. Instead, media spokesperson Pat Nolan e-mailed a brief statement. “We are excited to hear that San Francisco is considering the contracting of correctional health care,” he wrote. “Should the city choose to go through an RFP process, we would look forward to participating. We think it is the right thing to do for the city and its taxpayers.”



While those incarcerated in San Francisco jails can be thought of by some as criminals, nuisances, or miscreants, those requiring medical attention are patients in the eyes of the jail healthcare workers.

Inmates routinely enter the system with diabetes, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, heart problems, liver disease, and substance abuse issues, Connolly said. On occasion, a woman will arrive in jail only to learn that she is pregnant. Mental health problems are common, and some battle psychiatric issues in combination with physical ailments.

“Overall, our patient population has had little access to health care. For many people, we’re the only show in town,” Connolly noted.

Poh said some problems could spiral out of control if jail health staff didn’t nip them in the bud. If an inmate is exhibiting signs of tuberculosis, for instance, they’ll immediately get a mask and be sent to the hospital for screening. Sexually transmitted diseases are also a priority for treatment. “You don’t want that person going out infected,” Poh explained.

The city takes a proactive stance when it comes to treating inmates, Poh said, because at the end of the day, county jail is a revolving door. “Everybody leaves county jail. They’re either going home, to a program, or to prison.” If people are released back into the community with contagious, untreated health problems, the risk of exposure can spread beyond jailhouse walls.

San Francisco’s current system is considered a first line of defense, in which inmates are “seen as members of the community who happen to be in jail right now,” Paradis said.

Privatizing jail-health services would constitute a blow to a wider public health safety net in San Francisco that is already weathering painful cuts. At a June 15 Beilenson Hearing, a state-mandated opportunity for community members to explain the impacts of proposed health and human services cuts to the Board of Supervisors, people came out in droves to protest cuts to programs serving vulnerable residents.

Kristie Miller, executive assistant of the Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE) Project, told the Guardian that her organization serves 350 clients a year who are victims of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The organization stands to lose its mental health funding, so Miller had come out to speak against the cut. “It provides trauma-focused psychotherapy for survivors who’ve experienced a lot of abuse, violence, and exploitation,” she said.

Jeff Schindler, chief development officer for the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, said he was there protesting a 79 percent funding cut to his organization’s 108-bed residential program on Treasure Island. “We won’t have a place for people to actually go into residential treatment for their mental health and substance abuse issues,” he said. “These are individuals who are going to get their needs met somehow, somewhere, and generally that’s going to be at San Francisco General Hospital.”

It’s in this context that the proposal to contract out for jail health services is being proposed. “It’s easy to dismiss prisoners as probably the least valued sector of our society,” Deirdre Wilson, of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, noted at a May 26 hearing. “But the right to health care is a human right.”



According to an estimate prepared by the Sheriff’s Department, the city could save anywhere from $11 million to $14 million by contracting out for jail health services, and Newsom’s budget assumes a savings of “over $11 million per year.”

However, the Controller’s Office continues to revise that figure as the debate shifts and concerns are raised about the skill mix that a private firm would use. “We don’t really know what it would cost to contract out, unless there was an RFP and a response to the proposal and some discussion about what the staffing requirements would be,” Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda explained at a June 17 hearing. She added that the potential range of savings spanned from $3 million to $11 million annually, depending on decisions that would have to be made about acceptable staffing levels.

San Francisco’s inmate population has shrunk in the wake of the crime lab scandal, and a city-owned facility in San Bruno has been temporarily shuttered. Sheriff Hennessey told the Guardian he believed medical care in the jails could be provided either by city workers or a private firm, but added that he’s “quite happy” with the status quo. Noting that 25 of the 58 counties in California already use private firms, he added, “It’s not an unusual or unique thing.” Hennessey also said the decision was linked to a broader philosophical and political question, and that he doubted there was support on the board for the proposal to go forward.

Mitch Katz, director of the city’s Department of Public Health, did not directly say whether he supported Newsom’s proposal. “I think our Jail Health Services does a great job, but I do understand that the city is facing an extremely difficult budget year and that ultimately the budget must be balanced,” Katz wrote in an e-mail.

Gabriel Haaland, who represents SEIU Local 1021 union members whose jobs would be affected by the proposal, voiced strong opposition at a June 17 Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “‘We don’t care about these people because they’re poor and they’re in jail.’ That’s the message” in the decision to contract out, Haaland charged. The item was continued and will be revisited as budget deliberations unfold.

Muni workers and common sense


I’m never the one arguing that city workers should take pay cuts, furloughs, benefit cuts or layoffs when there are ways to bring in new revenue. Remember: Layoffs and furloughs are, by definition, service cuts. And it’s a good thing to have city employees make enough money to live in San Francisco, raise families, send their kids to college etc. Maintaining a middle class in San Francisco through public-sector jobs is a fine use of taxpayer dollars (particularly if those dollars can come from the rich).

But I have to say: The Muni workers union isn’t being very smart. Refusing to accept any concessions at a time when every other union in the city — particularly SEIU Local 1021, whose members typically earn a lot less money than the bus drivers — have stepped up to the plate and accepted painful cut is politically foolish.

And for the Muni union leaders to say that the system’s budget problems aren’t their responsibility sounds terrible. Most other city employee unions show some loyalty to the people they serve, and are interested in making their departments work, and understand that in very bad times, everyone’s got to give a little.

The problem is that Sup. Sean Elsbernd wants to change the way Muni workers are paid, and his ballot measure could lead to significant pay cuts and work-rule changes, things the union really doesn’t want. And every headline about Muni workers refusing concessions gives Elsbernd more signatures, more supporters and more votes. 

SEIU wants a hearing on unseemly Ethics ouster


A day before Oliver Luby’s last day at the Ethics Commission, his union has called for a hearing into why his boss removed a special condition from the job that allowed him to be bumped and whether it was retaliation for Luby’s history of blowing the whistle on problems within the troubled agency.

“Special conditions are rare, specific to the position not the incumbent, and are put into place to promote the policy goal that specialists who are qualified serve in positions that require specific talents,” Gabrial Haaland of SEIU Local 1021 wrote to members of the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors. “Removing a special condition is more unusual than placing one on in the first place.  It is likely that an inexperienced Fines Officer would not be able to accurately interpret the necessary and complicated web of statute, local code, case law and FPPC opinions.”

Ethics Commission Director John St. Croix has refused to comment of the controversy, citing the confidentiality associated with personnel matters, but Haaland requested the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hold a hearing on it as part their review of the commission’s budget. And Haaland told the Guardian that his union generally doesn’t like special conditions to be placed on positions, but he’s concerned about St. Croix’s motives in removing it: “It seems like retaliation based on his past actions.”

Meanwhile, Luby’s last day is Friday (6/11) and he will gather with friends and supporters after work at Temple on Polk Street. Luby told us he appreciates SEIU’s efforts and supports the idea of a hearing into what happened, but he said he has accepted his fate: “I’m still a goner.”

Another bloody budget


In the days since June 1, when Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposal for San Francisco’s $6.48 billion budget for the next fiscal year, public sector employees and community organizations have been poring over the hefty document to determine how their jobs, services, and programs survived cuts made to close a $483 million shortfall.

For police and firefighters, a key Newsom constituency, the news is good. There were no layoffs to San Francisco firefighters, and while members of the Police Officer’s Association gave up $9.3 million in wage concessions under the lucrative contract Newsom gave them a few years ago, police officers will still receive a 4 percent wage increase on July 1.

For others, the release of the mayor’s budget signified a tough fight looming before the Board of Supervisors, one with high stakes. Cuts to homeless services, mental health care, youth programs, and housing assistance, along with privatization proposals, have raised widespread concern among labor and liberal advocacy organizations. Public input on the budget will continue at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee until July 15, when the amended document is considered by the full board.

At a June 1 announcement ceremony, Newsom asserted that the budget was balanced “without draconian cuts,” saying, “We were able to avoid the kind of cataclysmic devastation that some had argued was inevitable in this budget.”

Nearly a week later, Board President David Chiu told the Guardian that sort of cataclysm wouldn’t be staved off for long if the city continues on the course of repeatedly making deep budget cuts without proposing any significant new sources of revenue.

“Now that the smoke has cleared, it is clear that the mayor’s proposed budget is perfect for a mayor who is only going to be around for the short term, but it does not address the long-term fiscal crisis that our city is in,” Chiu said. “Next year, we’re looking at over a $700 million budget deficit. The year after that, we’re looking at almost an $800 million budget deficit. The budget proposal that Newsom put out balances the … deficit on many one-time tricks and assumptions of uncertain revenue.”

Meanwhile, advocates said even the cuts proposed this time would bring serious consequences, especially with unemployment on the rise, state programs being cut in Sacramento, and families feeling the pinch more than ever.

“Poor and working class families, and families of color in San Francisco, are facing kind of an assault on funding and on safety net services on multiple levels,” said Chelsea Boilard, family policy and communications associate for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. “I think a lot of it is that families are concerned about their ability to stay in the city and raise their kids here.”



During the budget announcement, Newsom emphasized the positive. He found $12 million in new revenue simply by closing a loophole that had allowed Internet-based companies to avoid paying that amount in hotel taxes. He said 350 currently occupied positions would be cut, but noted that it was less than a cap of 425 that public sector unions had agreed to. Cuts were inevitable since the ailing economy inflicted the city’s General Fund with significant losses, particularly from business and property tax revenues.

Nonetheless, Newsom’s budget is already coming under fire from progressive leaders. For one, there are no new revenue-generating measures in the form of general taxes, which could have averted the worst blows to critical safety-net services and might help remedy the city’s economic woes in the long-term.

“There are no new taxes in this budget,” Newsom declared. “I know some folks just prefer tax increases. I don’t.”

Yet Chiu said many of Newsom’s assumptions for revenue were on shaky ground, prompting City Controller Ben Rosenfield — Newsom’s former budget director — to place $142 million on reserve in case the projected revenues don’t pan out.

“These budget deficits continue as far as the eye can see,” Chiu noted. “Even if those amounts come in, something like 90 percent of them are one-time fixes. So even if the mayor is right, it doesn’t solve next year’s problem, or the year after. Which is why many of us at the board believe that we have to consider additional revenue proposals to think about the long-term fiscal health of the city.”

Sup. John Avalos, chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, described Newsom’s budget as “pretty much an all-cuts budget,” noting that he and Chiu planned to introduce revenue-generating measures. They were expected to introduce proposals — including an increase in the hotel tax and a change in the business tax — at the June 8 board meeting.

Because despite Newsom’s rosy assessment, many of his proposed cuts are deep and painful: the Recreation and Park Department would be cut by 42 percent (with its capital projects budget slashed by 90 percent), Economic and Workforce Development by 34 percent, Ethics Commission by 23 percent (basically eliminating public financing for candidates), Department of the Environment by 14 percent, Emergency Management by 10 percent, and the list goes on.



Progressives say Newsom’s budget reflects skewed priorities. While relatively little is asked of public safety departments, health and human services programs face major staffing and funding losses. “Poor people are being asked to shoulder the burden,” noted Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

Nearly $31 million would be slashed from the Department of Public Health, and more than $22 million would be cut from the Human Services Agency under Newsom’s proposed budget. While this reflects only 2–3 percent of the departmental budgets, there’s widespread concern that the cuts target programs designed to shield the most vulnerable residents.

Proposals that deal with housing are of special concern. “We have more and more families moving into SRO hotel rooms. We have families in garages. We have a really scary situation for many families,” Friedenbach said.

Affordable housing programs within the Mayor’s Office of Housing would get slashed from $16.8 million currently down to just $1.2 million, a 92 percent cut. Other cuts seem small, but will have big impacts of those affected. Newsom’s budget eliminates 42 housing subsidies, which boost rent payments for families on the brink of homelessness, for a savings of $264,000. Meanwhile, a locally funded program that subsidizes housing costs for people with AIDS would be cut, for a savings of $559,000.

Transitional housing would be affected, too, such as 59 beds at a homeless shelter on Otis Street, which Friedenbach says would be lost under Newsom’s budget proposal. “We’ve already lost more than 400 shelter beds since Newsom came to office, so that’d be a huge hit,” she said. Since the recession began, she added, the wait-list at shelters has tripled. The Ark House, a temporary housing facility that serves LGBT youth, would also be closed.

Overall, homeless services delivered by HSA would take a $12 million hit in Newsom’s budget, or about 13 percent, offset slightly by homeless services being increased by $2 million within the Mayor’s Office budget, a 71 percent increase.

Outpatient mental health services, such as Community Behavioral Health Services, would also be affected (See “Cutting from the bottom”), in violation of current city law. Several years ago, then-Sup. Tom Ammiano introduced legislation establishing a “single standard of care” to guarantee access to mental health services for indigent and uninsured residents.

“If timely, effective, and coordinated mental health treatment is not provided to indigent and uninsured residents who are not seriously mentally ill, those residents are at risk of becoming seriously mentally ill and hence requiring more expensive and comprehensive mental health care from San Francisco,” according to the ordinance, which was passed in June of 2005. Newsom’s budget proposes changing this legislation to enable cuts to those services, which would result in 1,600 people losing treatment, according to Friedenbach.

Unfortunately, advocates for the poor has gotten used to this ritual of trying to restore cuts made by Newsom. “There are some sacred cows that seem to survive year after year, and then we’re left fighting over what we can get,” said Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC).

The Central City SRO Collaborative, which supports tenants living in single-room occupancy hotels in the mid-Market Street area and is operated through THC, is slated to be cut by 40 percent along with three other similar programs — a replay from last year when the mayor proposed eliminating funding and the Board of Supervisors restored the cut.

“I think you’d see more fires, more people dying from overdoses. You’d see really bad conditions,” Jeff Buckley, director of the program, told us of the potential consequences of eliminating the inspections and resident training that is part of the program.

Funding was also eliminated for THC’s Ellis Eviction Defense Program, the city’s only free legal defense program with capacity to serve 55 low-income tenants facing eviction under the Ellis Act.



One of the most controversial proposals to emerge from Newsom’s budget is a way for property owners and real estate speculators to buy their way out of the city lottery that limits conversion of rental properties and tenants-in-common (TICs) to privately-owned condos if they pay between $4,000 and $20,000 (depending on how long they have waited for conversion), a proposal to raise about $8 million for the city.

“I went back and forth because I know the Board of Supervisors can’t stand this,” Newsom said as he broached the subject at the June 1 announcement. “I still don’t get this argument completely. Except it’s a big-time ideological discussion. It’s so darn ideological that I think it gets in the way of having a real discussion.”

Yet Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, said the argument is quite clear: making it easier to convert rental units into condos will accelerate the loss of rental housing in a city where two-thirds of residents are tenants, in the process encouraging real estate speculation and evictions.

“It will encourage TIC conversions and evictions because it makes the road to converting TICs to condos that much easier,” Gullicksen said. “It’s going to be a huge gift to real estate speculators.”

Newsom press secretary Tony Winnicker disputes that impact, saying that “these units were going to convert anyway, whether next year or six years. This merely accelerates that conversion without altering the lottery to protect jobs and services.”

But Gullicksen said the proposal obviously undermines the lottery system, which is the only tool tenant advocates have to preserve the finite supply of rent-controlled apartments, noting that even if the condos are later rented out, they will no longer to subject to rent control. That’s one reason why the Board of Supervisors has repeatedly rejected this idea, and why Newsom probably knows they will do so again.

Avalos said he and other progressive supervisors will oppose the proposal, despite the difficulties that will create in balancing the budget. “It’s kind of like putting a gun to our heads,” Avalos said of Newsom’s inclusion of that revenue in his budget.

To offset that revenue loss, Avalos has proposed a tax on alcohol sold in bars and Gullicksen is proposing the city legalize illegal housing units that are in habitable condition for property owners willing to pay an amnesty fee.

Some housing advocates were also struck by the timing of proposing condo conversion fees while also eliminating the Ellis Eviction Defense Program. “We’re really the only ones doing this,” Shaw noted. He said the program is crucial because it serves low-income tenants, many of whom are monolingual Chinese or Spanish speakers who lack the ability to pay for private attorneys to resist aggressive landlords.



The Department of Children, Youth. and Families budget would be reduced by 20 percent under Newsom’s budget, with the greatest cuts affecting after school and youth leadership programs. Roughly a $3 million cut will result in the loss of around 300 subsidized slots for after school programs, said Boilard of Coleman Youth Advocates. Another $3 million is expected to come out of violence-prevention programs for troubled youth; an additional $1 million would affect youth jobs programs.

Patricia Davis, a Child Protective Services employee who lives in the Mission District with her two teenage sons, said she was concerned about the implications for losses to youth programs, particularly during the summer. “You can imagine what’s going to happen this summer,” she said. “I feel that a lot of kids are going to do a lot of things that they have no business doing.”

Davis, who says she’ll have to look for a new job come Sept. 30 because the federal stimulus package funding that supports her position will run out, said she was not happy to hear that police officers would be getting raises just as that summer school programs are being threatened with closure. “Couldn’t the 4 percent [raise] go somewhere else — like to the children?” she wondered.

Meanwhile, privatization proposals are causing anxiety for SEIU Local 1021 members, who recently gave millions in wage concessions and furloughs along with other public employees to help balance the budget. A proposal to contract out for jail health services cropped up last year and was shot down by the board, but it’s back again.

“When you make it a for-profit enterprise, the bottom line is the profit. It’s not about the health care,” SEIU Local 1021 organizer Gabriel Haaland told us. “It isn’t the same quality of care.”

Haaland said he believes the mayor’s assumption that the proposal could save $13 million should be closely examined. Other privatization schemes would contract out for security at city museums and hospitals.

Institutional police in the mental health ward at SF General Hospital and other sensitive facilities are well trained and experienced with difficult situations so, Haaland said, “the workers feel a lot safer” than they would with private contractors.

Regarding Newsom’s privatization proposal, Avalos said the board was “opposed last year and the year before, and we’ll oppose [them] this year.”

In the coming weeks, Avalos and other members of the Budget and Finance Committee will carefully go over Newsom’s proposed budget — which is now being sized up by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose’s office — and solicit input from the public. Chances are, they’ll get an earful.

“People are scared. They are scared to death right now,” Boilard said. “As it is, people’s hours are being reduced. And it’s getting harder and harder to find a job because so many people are out of work that the level of competition has gotten really fierce. This is the time that we need to invest in safety net services for young people and families more than ever — and all those services and programs and relationships that people depend on are disappearing.”

Steven T. Jones and Kaitlyn Paris contributed to this report.

Ethics boss finally ousts Luby, a crusading public advocate


Oliver Luby has long been the most public-spirited employee of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, the one person in that office who repeatedly exposed powerful violators of campaign finance rules and blew the whistle on schemes to make the system less transparent and effective, drawing the ire of Director John St. Croix and Deputy Director Mabel Ng in the process.

St. Croix repeatedly tied to silence and punish Luby, who fell back on civil service and whistle-blower protections to save his job as a fines collection officer and continue doing it properly. But it appears St. Croix has finally succeeded in ousting Luby, who this week was notified that his last day will be June 11.

During budget season last year, at a time when St. Croix was trying to punish Luby for sounding the alarm about a new campaign finance database would effectively delete important data (something St. Croix defended but the vendor, NetFile, later corrected), St. Croix quietly removed a special condition for Luby’s job that required at least 12 months campaign finance experience.

So when Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered more than 400 layoffs of city employees to balance the budget, Luby’s job was just another 1840 level position, subjected to being taken by someone from another department with more seniority, which is what happened when Ernestine Braxton, a junior management assistant with the Department of Public Works, took the job.

When I asked St. Croix about why he removed the special condition from Luby’s job and whether it was retaliation for his battles with Luby, St. Croix told me, “You want me to talk about a personnel matter and I’m not going to talk about it.”

Yet Luby says its clear the St. Croix targeted him for removal. “Once that condition was removed, it was only a matter of time before I was bumped by someone in the same civil service job class but with greater seniority,” Luby wrote in a message to supporters, adding that he’s still figuring out what his options are.

Luby first got on the wrong side of Ethics Commission management back in early 2004 when he and fellow employee Kevin DeLiban accidentally were sent a memo from the office of campaign attorney Jim Sutton, treasurer for the Newsom for Mayor campaign, detailing a scheme to illegally pay off campaign debts with money laundered through Newsom’s inauguration committee.

Ng and then-director Ginny Vida ordered them to destroy the document, but they saved a copy and exposed the scheme, which Sutton then backed away from implementing (the pair was publicly honored for their efforts). But Luby continued to have professional differences with Vida’s replacement, St. Croix, often over the favorable treatment given the clients of Sutton, who runs the most expensive and deceptive campaigns on behalf of powerful downtown corporations and organizations (and whose hiding of a late PG&E contribution to defeat a 2002 public power measure resulted in a largest fine Ethics ever ordered).

For example, in 2007, Luby wrote a memo showing how enforcement actions by Ethics disproportionately targeted small campaigns (often by progressive candidates) and ignored serious violations by the most powerful interests in the city (which, if pursued, would have resulted in big fines, money the city desperately needs). We at the Guardian obtained the memo and wrote a story, causing St. Croix to order Luby to not longer write memos recommending way to improve operations at Ethics. And in November 2008, Luby wrote an op-ed in the Chronicle showing how St. Croix had ignored and covered up campaign finance law violations at City College of San Francisco that later led to the criminal indictment of former Chancellor Phil Day (whose trial is expected to begin later this year).

With each of these battles, Luby was threatened by St. Croix and had to seek support from his union, SEIU Local 1021, and the protection of civil service and whistleblower laws. But now, it appears that San Franciscans are losing the only person in the Ethics Commission that could be trusted to act in the interests of the city and the public.

Muni reform that might actually work


EDITORIAL The 2007 ballot measure that was supposed to give Muni more political independence and more money has failed to provide either. It’s time to say that Proposition A, which we supported, hasn’t worked — in significant part because the administration of Mayor Gavin Newsom hasn’t allowed it to work. It’s time for a new reform effort, one that looks at Muni’s governance structure, funding, and the way it spends money.

There are several proposals in the works. Sup. David Campos has asked for a management audit of the Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, and that’s likely to show some shoddy oversight practices and hugely wasteful overtime spending. Sup. Sean Elsbernd wants to change the way Muni workers get paid, and Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and David Chiu are talking about changing the way the MTA board is appointed. There are merits to all the reform plans, but in the end, none of them will work if they don’t address the fundamental fact that Muni doesn’t have enough money to provide the level of transit service San Francisco needs.

The basic outlines of what a progressive Muni reform measure would look like are pretty obvious. It ought to include three basic principles: work-rule and overtime reform; a change in the way other departments, particularly the police, charge Muni for work orders — and a sizable new source of revenue.

The work orders are, in many ways, the easiest issue. Last year, the San Francisco Police Department charged Muni more than $12 million in work orders. For what? Well, for doing what the Police Department gets paid to do anyway: patrolling Muni garages, putting cops on the buses, and dealing with Muni-related traffic issues. And a lot of that $12 million is police overtime.

The labor and revenue issues are trickier — mostly because they’re being addressed separately. Elsbernd, for example, wants to Muni workers to engage in the same collective bargaining that other city unions do, which makes a certain amount of sense. But he’s wrong to make it appear that the union and the workers are the major source of Muni’s financial problems — and that approach won’t get far. The bus drivers and mechanics didn’t make millions on large commercial developments that put a huge strain on the transit system — and the developers who profit from having bus service for the occupants of their buildings have never paid their fair share. Nor is it the fault of the union that car traffic downtown clogs the streets and makes it hard for buses to run on time.

We agree that the transit union needs to come to the table and talk, seriously, about work-rule changes. Every other city union, particularly SEIU Local 1021, whose members are among the lowest-paid workers in the city, has given something up to help the city’s budget problems.

But any attempt to change Muni’s labor contract needs to be paired with a serious new revenue program aimed at putting the transit system on a stronger financial footing — and traffic management plans that give buses an advantage over cars. The city can add a modest fee on car owners now, and if a Democratic governor wins in November, it’s likely that state Sen. Mark Leno’s bill to allow a local car tax will become law. That’s part of the solution, as is expanded parking meter hours. (And someone needs to talk about charging churchgoers for parking in the middle of the streets on Sundays.) But Muni also needs a regular stream of income from fees on developers.

And a seven-member MTA appointed entirely by the mayor does nothing for political independence; at the very least, the supervisors should get three of the appointments.

The city badly needs Muni reform — and the elements are all in place. But it can’t be a piecemeal approach.

Muni reform that might actually work


EDITORIAL The 2007 ballot measure that was supposed to give Muni more political independence and more money has failed to provide either. It’s time to say that Proposition A, which we supported, hasn’t worked — in significant part because the administration of Mayor Gavin Newsom hasn’t allowed it to work. It’s time for a new reform effort, one that looks at Muni’s governance structure, funding, and the way it spends money.

There are several proposals in the works. Sup. David Campos has asked for a management audit of the Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, and that’s likely to show some shoddy oversight practices and hugely wasteful overtime spending. Sup. Sean Elsbernd wants to change the way Muni workers get paid, and Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and David Chiu are talking about changing the way the MTA board is appointed. There are merits to all the reform plans, but in the end, none of them will work if they don’t address the fundamental fact that Muni doesn’t have enough money to provide the level of transit service San Francisco needs.

The basic outlines of what a progressive Muni reform measure would look like are pretty obvious. It ought to include three basic principles: work-rule and overtime reform; a change in the way other departments, particularly the police, charge Muni for work orders — and a sizable new source of revenue.

The work orders are, in many ways, the easiest issue. Last year, the San Francisco Police Department charged Muni more than $12 million in work orders. For what? Well, for doing what the Police Department gets paid to do anyway: patrolling Muni garages, putting cops on the buses, and dealing with Muni-related traffic issues. And a lot of that $12 million is police overtime.

The labor and revenue issues are trickier — mostly because they’re being addressed separately. Elsbernd, for example, wants to Muni workers to engage in the same collective bargaining that other city unions do, which makes a certain amount of sense. But he’s wrong to make it appear that the union and the workers are the major source of Muni’s financial problems — and that approach won’t get far. The bus drivers and mechanics didn’t make millions on large commercial developments that put a huge strain on the transit system — and the developers who profit from having bus service for the occupants of their buildings have never paid their fair share. Nor is it the fault of the union that car traffic downtown clogs the streets and makes it hard for buses to run on time.

We agree that the transit union needs to come to the table and talk, seriously, about work-rule changes. Every other city union, particularly SEIU Local 1021, whose members are among the lowest-paid workers in the city, has given something up to help the city’s budget problems.

But any attempt to change Muni’s labor contract needs to be paired with a serious new revenue program aimed at putting the transit system on a stronger financial footing — and traffic management plans that give buses an advantage over cars. The city can add a modest fee on car owners now, and if a Democratic governor wins in November, it’s likely that state Sen. Mark Leno’s bill to allow a local car tax will become law. That’s part of the solution, as is expanded parking meter hours. (And someone needs to talk about charging churchgoers for parking in the middle of the streets on Sundays.) But Muni also needs a regular stream of income from fees on developers.

And a seven-member MTA appointed entirely by the mayor does nothing for political independence; at the very least, the supervisors should get three of the appointments.

The city badly needs Muni reform — and the elements are all in place. But it can’t be a piecemeal approach.

Workers rally against Newsom’s layoff scheme


By Jobert Poblete

Dozens of workers at San Francisco General Hospital rallied March 25 to protest layoffs there and throughout the city as ordered by Mayor Gavin Newsom. More than 17,000 city workers received layoff notices in the last few weeks, including hundreds at the hospital. The protest was organized by SEIU Local 1021, which represents around 12,000 city employees, 9,000 of whom have received pink slips. 

Many of these workers are expected to be re-hired as part-time employees, working 37.5 hours a week or less. The move is expected to shave $50 million from a more than $500 million budget deficit. The Mayor’s Office is calling this a “reorganization” that will minimize the impact on services and maintain employment. But the plan, which was proposed by Newsom last month without first consulting with the city’s unions, has met fierce resistance from employees and their labor representatives and is now the subject of negotiations between the mayor and 41 city employee unions.

SEIU acknowledged the city’s fiscal troubles but is upset about what it calls a unilateral change in its members’ wages and benefits. “Essentially what they’re doing is unilaterally cutting wages and benefits without negotiating it,” SEIU organizer Gabriel Haaland told us. “It’s not a question of whether we’re willing to sacrifice, but that choice has been taken away.”

Hospital workers, carrying signs that read “Patient Care is Not Part Time,” also raised concerns about the layoff-rehire scheme’s potential effects on the quality of services at the hospital. “It can’t work in the emergency room and it can’t work in the rest of the hospital,” said Ed Kinchley, a social worker who works in the hospital’s emergency room.

Shari Zinn, an X-ray technician in the hospital, said her department already runs below minimum staffing levels, forcing patients to wait two to four hours for X-rays. Since X-ray technicians are hard to retain, she is not being laid off, but clerks and aids in her department are. “If there isn’t a clerk or aid,” Zinn said, “then an X-ray tech has to stop what they’re doing. Fewer patients can be served.”

Hospital officials would not comment on the layoffs.

At the rally, speakers called on the city to come up with revenue measures and other ways to balance the budget. “The city has really pushed us too far,” Sin Yee Poon, SEIU’s chief elected officer, told the assembled workers. “They’re balancing they’re budget on us, just us.”

SF leaders condemn SEIU tactics


San Franciscans seem to be turning against Service Employee International Union and its national President Andy Stern this week, first with the vote by SEIU Local 1021 members to oust Stern’s leadership team, and now with a letter signed by a broad array of top political officials condemning SEIU tactics against the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

As the Guardian reported last year, NUHW President Sal Rosselli and his management team broke away from SEIU’s United Healthcare Workers after a protracted conflict that culminated in a hostile SEIU takeover of the local, placing it under a Stern-controlled trusteeship. NUHW had criticized Stern’s autocratic leadership style and undemocratic methods while SEIU accused Rosselli of using union funds to undermine Stern’s decisions.

Since then, a majority of SEIU-UHW workers statewide has filed petitions asking to decertify with SEIU-UHW and affiliate with NUHW, which has won seven of the nine elections that have been held so far. So SEIU filed various complaints with the National Labor Relations Board to try to block those elections, while NUHW has complained of worker harassment and ballot meddling by SEIU.

Earlier today, SEIU-UHW sent out a press release touting an NLRB ruling that clears the way for elections at 51 facilities around the state covering 6,845 voters, blaming NUHW for “violating members’ democratic rights” in opposing those elections.

But NUHW leaders say SEIU-UHW has been “cherry-picking” selected sites where they think their chances of winning are good and keeping their NLRB complaints in place to block other sites, often dividing up bargaining units in the process to raise fears in workers that they might lose bargaining clout if they switch unions. NUHW is a relatively small organization compared to the massive SEIU.

NUHW leaders say they want a fair, up-or-down vote among all of the SEIU-UHW members statewide who have asked for elections, and they’ve asked SEIU to sign a Fair Election Agreement to prevent harassment and intimidation, something that SEIU often asks employers to sign.

Supporting that request is an open letter signed by 116 San Francisco political leaders from across the spectrum, including every member of the Board of Supervisors except Sup. Carmen Chu, Assembly members Tom Ammiano and Fiona Ma, Sen. Mark Leno, Democrat Party chair Aaron Peskin and nine other members of the DCCC, all four major candidates for the Dist. 8 Board of Supervisors seat, United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly, and representatives from a board array of unions and grassroots organizations, including UNITE-HERE, POWER, Young Workers United, Chinese Progressive Association, Coleman Advocates, and many others.

Interestingly, in addition to his critics on the left within the labor movement, Stern is also being criticized by conservatives right now after President Barack Obama appointed him to his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

The Guardian has forwarded the letter and allegations to SEIU-UHW officials and is awaiting a response, which I’ll post in the comments section when I hear back.


The letter reads:

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED community leaders of San Francisco, are deeply troubled by allegations that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) committed multiple, serious violations of state labor law during the union representation election between SEIU United Healthcare Workers – West (SEIU-UHW) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) for 10,000 Fresno County homecare workers this June.

These allegations, made in sworn testimony before the California Public Employment Relations Board, include that SEIU officials directed staff to open, mark, and alter workers’ ballots; threaten the deportation of immigrants; and tell workers they would suffer the loss of wages, benefits and hours to scare them into voting for SEIU. The complaint alleges further that SEIU organizers physically removed ballots from workers’ mailboxes and homes.

Caregivers in San Francisco have complained of similar intimidation and harassment at the hands of SEIU officials trying to block union representation elections requested by them and tens of thousands of other California healthcare workers who have petitioned to join NUHW.

Over the next year, as thousands of San Francisco homecare workers, private sector nursing home workers, and private sector hospital workers make their choice for union representation between SEIUUHW and NUHW, we are committed to see that these workers can make their decision democratically, without intimidation, harassment, threats or coercion of any kind, from any party.

NUHW officials have communicated to us their willingness to enter into Fair Election Agreements, which are common in California’s healthcare industry, and which SEIU officials have long championed throughout the nation, to govern their campaign conduct and protect caregivers’ freedom of choice in their upcoming union representation elections.

Therefore, we are asking that you and San Francisco’s healthcare employers join NUHW in negotiating Fair Election Agreements to establish ground rules for these elections and guarantee that workers can choose their representatives for themselves. Please know that regardless of your decision, we will stand united to ensure that San Francisco’s healthcare workers have the fair elections they deserve.

SEIU members oust the old guard


In a stunning repudiation of the union leadership installed by Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern – whose autocratic style, aggressive expansion, and friendly relationships with big employers has caused a rift in the national labor movement – members of SEIU Local 1021 have voted overwhelmingly for a reform slate of new leaders.

As we wrote recently, the stakes were high here in San Francisco, where the old guard leaders threatened to undermine the union’s progressive tendencies just as Mayor Gavin Newsom is threatening mass layoffs and pay cuts for city employees, and the San Francisco Labor Council’s ideological balance was being tipped by the pro-development push of the building trades.

But the results couldn’t have been more clear in the first local election since Stern installed the Local 1021 after merging 10 union locals together, including the former Local 790, which represents most city employees. Stern’s whole slate was voted out by a substantial margin, including current President Damita Davis-Howard, who had 1445 votes to the 2141 votes garnered by Sin Yee Poon, who now takes over the top spot after having led SF Human Services Agency workers.

Also pushed out was James Bryant, a political ally of Newsom and enabler of Pacific Gas & Electric and other downtown power brokers, who was defeated in his run for Political Action Committee Chair. Alysabeth Alexander, who is in her 20s, beat him by a vote of 2552-1506.

The vote will certainly strengthen the hand of progressives in San Francisco going into what’s expected to be a tough budget fight with Newsom, as well as helping progressive supervisorial candidates in the November election against what is expected to be a strong push by downtown to break the progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors.

In addition, it could roil SEIU’s internal politics after a turbulent year, in which Stern created divisive clashes with his own local health care workers (causing Sal Rosselli to create the rival National Union of Healthcare Workers), UNITE-HERE, and the California Nurses Association.


The press release from the winning reform slate follows: 

Reformers Sweep in SEIU 1021 Election; Members Vote for Transparency and Democracy for Northern California’s Largest Public Sector Union 

On Friday, thousands of public sector votes were counted to determine the future leadership of one of the largest unions in Northern California.  This is the first election for SEIU 1021, formed only three years ago after the merging of 10 locals.

The reform slate, Change 1021, swept the elections taking a clear majority of the executive leadership seats. This all-member slate easily defeated the former administration-appointees by the International SEIU.  Some candidates won by a 3 to 1 margin while others enjoyed a comfortable 2 to 1 lead on their opponents. See attached list of election results.

“We are excited about the opportunity to give the leadership of this Union back to the membership,” stated Karen Bishop, the San Francisco County Area Representative Elect.  Former San Francisco Board of Supervisors President and current Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party  Aaron Peskin agreed, affirming, “It is very heartening to see that real democracy has prevailed.”

Change 1021 campaigned on a platform for reform, seeking a stronger union that would prioritize member representation at work sites; fiscal transparency; and an internal democratic structure. “Members spoke with their votes, sending a clear message about priorities,” said Roxanne Sanchez, President Elect.

The challenges for the new board are daunting-they must reunite and reinvigorate a membership hit hard by the economic downturn, with thousands to receive lay-off notices this week.  The Board Elect is ready to make the budget fight a priority to fight layoffs and preserve important public and non-profit services for our communities.

 “Our members have spoken, loudly and clearly, that business as usual is absolutely no longer tolerable and that a fundamental change in the focus of our union towards the needs and priorities of our members are in prompt order,” says Sin Yee Poon, Chief Elected Officer Elect. For now, there is cause for celebration as the congratulatory calls have been flooding across California from members, elected officials, labor leaders, and community partners.

Newly  elected members will assume office at the next Executive Board meeting, March 9th.   International Union leaders are expected to be in attendance.           

Change 1021 Candidates who were elected are: Chief Elected Officer, Sin Yee Poon; President, Roxanne Sanchez; First Vice President, Gary Jimenez; Second Vice President, Crawford Johnson; Third Vice President, Larry Bradshaw; Secretary, Pamela Morton; Treasurer, Kathy O’Neil; Political Action Comm. Chair, Alysabeth Alexander; Social & Economic Justice Comm. Chair, Gladys Gray; Capital Stewardship Comm. Chair, Harry Baker; Cities Industry Chair, Renita Terry; Counties Industry Chair, Ken Tam; Special Districts Industry Chair, Saul Almanza; Schools Industry Chair, Mynette Theard; Sacramento County Rep, Ken Bloomberg; Registered Nurses Industry Chair, David Fleming; City & County of SF Industry Chair, Kathy Basconcillo; San Francisco Area Reps- Karen Bishop, David Turner, Jacqueline Sowers; Alameda County Area Reps,- Amy Dooha, Eric Stern, Gregory Correa; Sonoma County Area Rep, Nancy Atwell; Budget & Finance Comm Region 3, Michael Tong; and Budget & Finance Comm. Region 4, Mary Jane Logan.

Labor’s love lost


Note: This file has been corrected from an earlier version.

Two recent events could have major implications for Service Employees International Union Local 1021 — San Francisco’s largest public-sector union and an important ally for progressives — for better or for worse. And this union’s fate seems closely tied to that of the progressive movement in San Francisco.

The first event was likened to a “nuclear bomb in the morning paper” by one observer, and might be interpreted as the kickoff to a fierce budget battle. Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that he is considering a plan to help solve next year’s budget deficit by laying off 10,000 full-time city workers and rehiring them at 37.5 hours, which would amount to a sweeping 6.25 percent pay cut for workers and an estimated $50 million in savings for a fiscally impaired city.

Though it was framed by Newsom spokesperson Tony Winnicker as one preliminary cost-saving option among many, the proposal received prominent front-page coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, even before official discussions were called between the mayor and public sector unions. Since SEIU Local 1021 represents 17,000 members in San Francisco and a majority of the city’s 26,000 total employees, it would likely absorb the greatest impact if such a plan went through.

At the same time the mayor’s startling announcement hit newsstands, SEIU was in the midst of mailing out ballots to its membership for union elections. “I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, or if the city is taking advantage of the fact that SEIU is absorbed in its elections,” Sin Yee Poon, an SEIU chapter president for Human Services Agency workers, told us while pointing out that the events happened simultaneously.

With three separate slates of candidates vying for control of SEIU Local 1021, grudges between warring internal factions have intensified into bitter sparring matches. The timing is unfortunate — just as SEIU’s internal turmoil is coming to a head, one of its greatest battles is pending over an unprecedented $522 million budget shortfall that looms like a dark cloud over the city. The deficit will surely result in job losses, and the public sector union’s ability to mount resistance even as it wrestles with internal strife is shaping up to be a key question.

This pivotal moment carries wider political implications considering that the progressive organization has in the past helped seal an alliance between San Francisco’s left-leaning leaders and organized labor through the San Francisco Labor Council.

With SEIU besieged by infighting and soon to be hurting from wage slashes and layoffs, more conservative factions of the labor community, such as the San Francisco Firefighters Union and the Building and Construction Trades Council, have recently been butting heads with progressive members of the Board of Supervisors.

At the same time, forces on all sides are beginning to eye the coveted seats up for election in June at the Democratic County Central Committee, a Democratic Party hub that is a cornerstone of local political influence, as well as the seats that will open up on the Board of Supervisors in November. Negotiations between unions and the mayor are ongoing, and mayoral spokesperson Tony Winnicker was quick to note that Newsom is open to options, other than reconfiguring 10,000 city jobs, that organized labor brings to the table. At the same time, the Guardian heard from numerous sources that city workers felt outraged and blindsided by Newsom’s decision to air the plan in the Chronicle instead of bringing stakeholders to the table.

SEIU Local 1021 President Damita Davis-Howard told us she thinks the idea of taking $50 million out of the pockets of working people in a rocky economy is wrong-headed.

“This was devastating,” said Davis-Howard, who is running for a newly created union position called chief elected officer, which is different from the union president, and similar to an executive-director post. “The mayor might as well have raised their taxes, because if you decrease their pay by 6.25 percent, they will still have the same amount of work, they will still have to pay the same mortgage, they will still have to buy the same food, the same PG&E, and they’ll be doing it with a lot less money. If any idea like this were to go through, it would actually remove the very fabric or fiber of San Francisco. It would really cut to the core of the very being of San Francisco. … I don’t see how anybody could believe that we could continue being the city that we love being with this kind of action.”

Winnicker, the mayoral spokesperson, cast it as a plan that could avert hundreds or even thousands of layoffs. “This year the easy decisions are behind us,” he noted in a recent discussion with the Guardian.

Solving last year’s fiscal shortfall was far from easy — budget tussles between frontline city workers and the mayor got ugly, and even then, the city received millions in federal stimulus dollars to cushion the blow. A similar plan of sweeping hourly cuts was floated then too, but it didn’t gain enough traction to move forward.

“The mayor is facing a huge budget deficit, there’s no question about it — but he has not lifted one finger to raise a dime in revenue,” charged SEIU member Ed Kinchley, who works at San Francisco General Hospital. As for how the union might respond if such a proposal went through, he speculated, “I think it’s the kind of thing that could lead to a strike. A big fight.”

While the city charter bars strikes by public employees, Kinchley’s comment indicates the level of frustration among SEIU’s rank-and-file.



The proposal could present a common enemy and a rallying point for a union in disarray. Internal jockeying for elected positions can be fierce in any organization, but for San Francisco’s service-workers union, the rifts are particularly deep.

The elections, which will be decided Feb. 28, mark the first time since a radical restructuring in 2007 that members will collectively decide who should lead. In 2007, the face of SEIU was changed across California when the international president, Andy Stern, began consolidating dozens of far-flung locals into centralized, beefier entities in a bid to maximize political effectiveness (California comprises roughly one-third of the entire union’s membership).

Local 1021 came into existence when 10 locals were conglomerated into one 54,000-member giant — hence the “10-to-one” label — representing health care and frontline service workers from the Bay Area to the Oregon border. 

In San Francisco, where a large segment of its members are based, the shift was interpreted by some as a power grab, and it triggered a period of ongoing strife between those allied with Stern and the international wing on one side, and those dissatisfied with changes they saw as antithetical to the democratic ideals championed by Local 790, its predecessor, on the other.

In the years following the reorganization, Stern began trying to aggregate members by raiding other unions to consolidate power. But campaigns to bring in members from United Healthcare Workers (UHW) and fend off membership losses to the newly created National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) have consumed money and resources that some members told the Guardian would’ve been better spent bolstering national support for health-care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act. According to one source, SEIU spent $10 million on a Fresno battle against NUHW.*

A fight waged between SEIU Local 1021 and UNITE HERE Local 2, a hotel-workers union that was historically allied with Local 1021’s predecessor, left some members especially stung because it marred a longstanding relationship between two groups of frontline workers.

“Andy Stern has concentrated more and more power into the hands of a group of so-called elite members of the union,” Kinchley told the Guardian. Stern’s top-down leadership style and growth-oriented objectives “run pretty harshly against what many of us believe is in the best interest of our workers locally,” he added.

In recent weeks, divisions have deepened further. A staff person who preferred not to be identified for fear of retribution filed charges with the U.S. Department of Labor against a supervisor, who is aligned with the international faction, for alleged harassment and bullying. Another complaint was filed with union leadership alleging that union bylaws were violated when membership money was authorized, but not spent, to conduct a poll without proper approval.*

“There’s a fiscal rogue-ness about it. [Davis-Howard] does whatever she wants, and she spends our dues money without authorization from anybody,” Kinchley charged.

Stern appointed Davis-Howard, and now she is running for election on a slate aligned with the international wing. When the Guardian tried to reach her to discuss union elections, spokesperson Carlos Rivera told us that Davis-Howard found it inappropriate to publicly discuss internal divisions.

Sin Yee Poon is running as her opponent on a reform slate, formed by members disaffected by the international’s modus operandi. “For the whole reform group, we’re disappointed with the general direction of corporate unionism,” Poon told the Guardian. Stressing that she believes grassroots, democratic ideals have eroded since the restructuring, she said members in her camp are agitated when they see resources siphoned into raids on other unions such as UNITE HERE and UHW. “We want it to be member-driven,” she said. “The raiding of other unions is absolutely not OK.”



The internal strife could have a wider ripple effect. SEIU Local 1021 has historically been influential in securing an alliance between the city’s labor community and San Francisco’s progressive leadership. During the last round of elections for San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, Sups. John Avalos and Eric Mar campaigned and ultimately were elected with strong fundraising support from the labor council.

Yet in recent weeks, several skirmishes pitted certain factions of the labor community against progressive members of the Board of Supervisors. Outrage bubbled up from the firefighters — and ultimately the labor council as a whole — against a charter amendment proposed by Sup. John Avalos that would have extended the minimum number of work hours for firefighters.

Billed as a cost-saving measure, the proposal might have ultimately resulted in fewer firefighter jobs, but it was designed to spread the pain of budget cuts more equitably by grazing public safety departments instead of just inflicting blows on frontline and healthcare workers.

After Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson came out strongly against it, Avalos abandoned the idea. A source from within the labor council, who spoke on background only, described it as an opportunity for the labor council to come together and unite on class interests.

The political posturing that came out of that fight shook even Sup. David Campos, who vocally called for equitably sharing the pain during last year’s budget debacle. “This isn’t the way to do it,” Campos said when asked about Avalos’ failed charter amendment. “And I worry about the negative impact on labor and the progressive board. There are larger issues at play here. The entire progressive agenda is at stake. We need to think long-term about the specific issues plus the future of the progressive movement.”

Sup. Sean Elsbernd’s bid to reform the pension system to save money has provoked yet another fight with SEIU Local 1021. Union members argue that if they are asked to contribute to their own retirement funds, which would become mandatory under this proposal, then they should be given the same wage increase that other unions were granted when they agreed to similar terms.

But when Sup. Eric Mar tried to amend Elsbernd’s proposal by inserting language guaranteeing that pay increase, Elsbernd said it would cost the city millions more. If Mar’s amended version goes forward, “you’ll be going to the voters by yourself,” Elsbernd told the progressive-leaning supervisor at a Feb. 9 board meeting.



Another fight has erupted over 555 Washington, a tower proposed to go up beside the TransAmerica Pyramid, which was debated at a joint hearing Feb. 11 between the Planning Commission and the Recreation and Park Commission. For members of the Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents unionized carpenters, plumbers, and other workers in development-related trades, the project represented jobs — the screaming priority in an economy where funding for new construction has trickled to almost nil.

“There is, in general in San Francisco progressive politicians, a knee-jerk reaction to development projects,” Building & Trades Council Secretary Treasurer Michael Theriault told us. As a council representing people whose livelihoods depend on private sector construction, “We have a particular quandary,” he said. “We need politicians who at the same time are friendly to labor and understand that development is an economic tool that can help the city.”

The arm of labor representing Theriault’s council has been slammed with job losses due to the economic downturn, and he’s publicly expressed frustration when projects of this scale are shot down.

“What the mayor did, what Elsbernd did, and what Avalos did are all the same thing: They all staked out a position, put a provocative idea on the table, and forced unions to have a discussion with a gun to their head in a non-constructive way,” Mike Casey, president of UNITE HERE Local 2 and a member of the labor council’s Executive Committee.

A source familiar with the inner workings of the labor council said the tension between building trades and firefighters versus more left-leaning members of the labor community has been in existence for decades, and it isn’t anything new — particularly in the months preceding election season.

Casey challenged the very notion that there is a subculture of the labor council that isn’t progressive, pointing out that labor came together as whole to support Sups. Avalos, Mar, and David Chiu — “and I personally would do it again in a heartbeat,” he added. Internal catfights and struggles for control come with the territory in a democratic, diverse organization, he said. “As a group of working people, I have great regard for the membership [of SEIU Local 1021],” he said. “Occasionally there’s a dustup. In my experience, after the dust settles, more often that not, unions come out stronger for it.”.

*Corrections made to the original file.

Public employees feel blindsided by Newsom’s layoff scheme


Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to lay off 10,000 city employees and rehire them at lower pay is being met with outrage by some public-sector workers. The plan, crafted as a way of saving money to balance the city budget, would amount to sweeping pay cuts across the board for a significant number of city workers.

Formal discussions about it are in the earliest stages, and Tony Winnicker, the mayor’s press secretary, described it as “just one alternative that we’re investigating.” Nonetheless, some members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 are furious that the mayor unveiled this plan in the San Francisco Chronicle instead of at a meeting with the city’s labor leaders.

“As far as we can tell, an idea he has ended up on the front page of the Chronicle that’s had a devastating ripple affect among the people who work for the city and county,” SEIU Local 1021 President Damita Davis-Howard told the Guardian. “We feel like we got a sucker-punch. … We really wish he had talked to us before he governed by press conference.”

Davis-Howard said she’s been inundated with phone calls from angry union members who read the article. “This is the same proposal he floated last year,” Davis-Howard said. “Most of our members believed that they gave up their holiday pay in order to avoid this very thing.”

The proposal, which was briefly considered last year but never moved forward, serves to illustrate just how hard financial woes are hitting San Francisco. The city is staring down a $522 million deficit, and Newsom’s proposal would make up for a mere $50 million in savings.

Winnicker declined to comment on Davis-Howard’s concerns about being blindsided by news of the layoff plan, brushing it off by saying the mayor did discuss it with “some folks in labor.” Instead, he suggested that Newsom is getting serious about solving the budget crisis while the Guardian is just focusing on irrelevant gripes.

“It is an unprecedented budget shortfall, and it is real,” Winnicker said, stressing that the gaping budget gap will have to be bridged without the infusion of federal stimulus dollars that cushioned the blow last year. “The easy choices are behind us.” This layoff plan could prevent “hundreds, if not thousands, of layoffs,” but the mayor is open to other ideas that labor brings to the table, he said.

“That logic is just flawed,” Davis-Howard said when asked about the assertion that the plan could prevent layoffs. “That’s not the way you re-stimulate the economy, by taking more dollars out of the economy. We can’t continue to balance the budget on cuts, because pretty soon the actual fiber of the city and county of San Francisco will be reeling because of the number of cuts that we sustained.”

When asked how SEIU Local 1021 would respond, she said, “I do believe we need to be open-minded, imaginative, and creative in coming up with some revenue-generating measures here.”

No doubt the mayor will receive plenty of suggestions as negotiations continue in the coming weeks.

Scraping bottom


The job of scrubbing down a city bus after it’s gone out of service is no picnic. At a Jan. 20 Budget and Finance Committee hearing called by Sup. Chris Daly to discuss health and safety impacts related to Municipal Transportation Agency layoffs, supervisors took a virtual tour of a Muni bus that was trashed on multiple levels: tagged inside and out, soiled with vomit, and strewn with garbage. Among the roughly 100 Muni workers who will lose their jobs to midyear budget cuts are 10 “car cleaners” — those unsung heroes who scrub away late into the night, tackling the residue left behind by the Sharpie-wielding, litterbug masses.

“We do send out all of our vehicles clean,” MTA spokesperson Judson True told the Budget and Finance Committee members at the hearing. “We do not send out any of our vehicles with any health issues … and we will not.” Despite his assurances, members of the Board of Supervisors and some Muni staffers voiced fears that with fewer and more overworked car cleaners, the overall experience of riding public transit could suffer.

It’s just one small example of on-the-ground impacts of painful budget cuts inflicted to solve a steep shortfall affecting the city’s transit agency. The fiscal woes aren’t unique to Muni. In coming months, San Francisco city departments across the board will have to contend with revenue shortfalls and find ways to continue providing services with diminished resources.

But with layoffs and other proposals such as raising fares, reducing service, and charging more for discount passes on the table, many are raising objections — including several members of the MTA Board of Directors, a body that is wholly appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom. In a rare show of defiance at a Jan. 19 MTA Board meeting, several directors even resuscitated the idea of extending parking-meter hours and raising meter fees to generate new transit revenue, an idea Newsom previously rejected.


Muni has lost $180 million in state funding over the last three years due to “the nightmare in Sacramento,” as True put it, and no one seems to believe the fiscal crisis can be resolved without some degree of pain.

At the Jan. 19 MTA Board meeting, transit agency Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose outlined the dismal financial picture, explaining that Muni has been hit hard by declining parking and taxi fees and impacts to the city’s general fund, leaving it about $49 million in the hole for the current budget cycle. After the layoffs, Muni will still face a $17 million problem. To solve it, suggestions include jacking up the historic F Line trolley fare from $3 to $5, charging $30 for discount monthly passes for seniors and passengers with disabilities, and reducing service.

Even against the gloomy fiscal backdrop, the prospect of eliminating jobs to make up for the losses drew serious concerns from MTA directors. “Once somebody’s gone, they’re gone,” Director Shirley Breyer Black noted. “I think moving forward with cuts in these classifications will send us into deeper fiscal crisis.”

All the affected workers — most of them frontline employees — are slated to lose their jobs by May 1, and around one-third of them were dismissed Jan. 22.

Muni Executive Director and CEO Nathaniel Ford emphasized that the decision to cut jobs was not made lightly. But at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting the following day, progressive members of the Board of Supervisors expressed alarm after hearing union members sound off about how the cuts disproportionately affect lower-paid classifications. The majority of layoffs target members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, San Francisco’s largest labor union, which represents frontline workers across city departments.

“I understand that there are no good decisions,” Daly told the Guardian, adding that a certain group of workers seem to bearing the brunt of the cuts. “What progressive supervisors are calling for is for the budget to be handled more evenly,” he said.

A single Municipal Executives’ Association (MEA) employee — an MTA manager earning between $105,950 and $135,200 per year — was let go during this latest round of about 100 Muni layoffs, according to an agency memo. In the past year, MTA reduced its upper-level management team from 108 to 96 employees. In contrast, 33 members of SEIU Local 1021 — the majority frontline workers earning between $45,656 and $64,272 a year — will be affected by the cuts.

“Unfortunately, when MTA discovered that they had a budget problem, they didn’t bring all parties to the table,” SEIU Organizer Leah Berlanga testified at the Budget and Finance Committee hearing. “The way we got invited was via pink slips. That’s the only time they will talk to people who do direct services.”

When asked whether Muni had assessed mid- and upper-management level jobs to even the scales, True responded that a few mid-level managers were included in the latest round of cuts. One reason the layoffs seem disproportionate, he added, is that there are so many more frontline workers than others. “The budget picture has affected the entire agency,” he said. “No one is happy about these decisions.”

But SEIU Local 1021 characterized the layoffs as misguided, and attempted to identify waste and mismanagement within the agency in a packet of alternative cost-saving measures it submitted to MTA. At the top of the list was the suggestion that the agency eliminate 35 retired Muni employees, who are allowed to work up to 960 hours per year and earn wages in addition to their pensions. And according to the union, there are 21 temporary workers in the agency who’ve exceeded a two-year limit for short-term employment. SEIU recommended that those temps be dismissed too.

SEIU also criticized the decision to lay off 24 parking control officers (PCOs) — uniformed workers who have the unenviable job of issuing parking citations to bring in revenue for the city. “To me, if you do the simple math, it doesn’t make any sense. They make most of the money for the MTA,” said a PCO who testified at the hearing.

According to SEIU’s calculations, eliminating 24 employees who dole out parking tickets could result in a $7.2 million loss for the city in parking revenue. But True said MTA disagrees with this figure, and pointed to an internal memo showing how revenue from parking citations dropped in recent years even as more PCOs were hired. Nonetheless, at the urging of SEIU, the MTA Board agreed to postpone those 24 layoffs until February to buy time to study the impact. For other positions, negotiations between MTA and the union are ongoing. The details on still more layoffs, which will affect transit operators, is yet to come.

Sup. David Campos is asking for a management audit to see if Muni is spending its money efficiently. “I think we should look at best practices and how we’re operating before we finalize any cuts,” he said.


During a round of MTA budget talks last fall, the idea of extending city parking meter hours and raising meter fees was floated as a means of recouping losses — but Newsom balked at the idea, saying higher parking fees could harm small businesses. Now MTA Director Bruce Oka has revived — and endorsed — the concept.

“I can hold my nose and vote on anything, but I refuse to vote on something when I believe we have not looked under a rock for every source of funding,” Oka said at the meeting. “We have to extend the parking meter hours — we have to find dollars. If Room 200 [i.e. Newsom] doesn’t want that to happen, well then … he’s got to come up with a way to do what we need to do. If he’s not going to raise parking meters or extend parking meter time, he’s got to come up with some money.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of nonprofit Livable City and one of the individuals who helped to create MTA in 1999, summed up Oka’s comments with a note of surprise: “He really called out the mayor,” he said. “I haven’t seen MTA Board members do that — they usually cover for him.”

Radulovich — who is also on the BART Board — says targeting motorists for more revenue instead of transit riders would be more equitable, sustainable, and in keeping with the city’s Transit First goals in the long run. Proposition A, passed November 2007, established “a strong mandate to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions,” he pointed out. But, he noted, with layoffs that could affect the qualify of service and possibly deter people from riding, “We don’t see how MTA is going to get to those voter-mandated transit goals.” *



Saturday, Feb. 6, 10 a.m. to noon

Tuesday, Feb. 9, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 20, 10 a.m. to noon

One South Van Ness Ave. at Market Street, 2nd Floor Atrium


Friday, Jan. 29, 10 a.m.; discussion of FY10 options, including Muni service reductions

Tuesday, Feb. 16, 11 a.m.; public hearing on proposed FY10 budget actions

Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2 p.m.; public hearing and possible board approval of FY10 budget actions

Location: City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400

Some Muni layoffs postponed for a month


By Rebecca Bowe

Two dozen Muni parking control officers (PCOs) can hold onto their jobs for another month, the Municipal Transportation Agency Board decided Tuesday. The PCOs are those ever-popular uniformed workers who go around issuing parking citations (maybe you’ve seen the bumper-sticker slogan — “Good people, Tough jobs” — just after getting slammed with an outrageous parking ticket). A round of 24 PCO layoffs was previously scheduled to go into effect at the end of this week, as part of midyear cuts made to balance the city budget. But the MTA Board agreed to push the layoff date back to Feb. 26, according to Steve Stallone, a spokesperson for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents the workers. MTA spokesperson Judson True confirmed that the layoffs were postponed.

The PCO layoffs represented a hot topic at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, when a long line of city employees formed during public comment to raise objections. Abraham Davis, a PCO, told supervisors that each officer issues an average of 30 citations a day, which he said brings in roughly $2,000 for the city. Accounting for all 24 workers, “that’s $960,000 a month,” he said, “and that’s a low average.” He described one of his own bad days: “That’s the day I got spit on, almost run over, and came back to the hall with 60 citations,” he said. “Do the math.”

Stallone says today’s MTA Board decision was made because SEIU Local 1021 presented new figures outlining why cutting city workers who generate revenue for the city is a bad business decision. “We crunched the numbers differently,” he told the Guardian. “[MTA] staff just plain had it wrong.” We haven’t heard back yet on how SEIU’s numbers differ from MTA’s numbers — but it’s clear that the MTA Board is willing to look at what the union brought to the table.

At Sup. Chris Daly’s request, a hearing will be held at Wednesday’s Budget & Finance Committee meeting to discuss Muni layoffs and “the impacts on public health and safety concerns,” according to the meeting agenda. Some of those concerns revolve around the fact that PCOs direct traffic in emergency situations or special events when they aren’t issuing parking tickets, Stallone explained. And since another group of affected Muni workers includes the people who clean the buses, maybe the case will be made that riding around in grimy buses won’t exactly help San Franciscans combat swine flu and other contagious maladies. That’s just a guess. “It’s a good guess,” Stallone said. But he took a broader view, saying, “You’re going to lose ridership if the buses suck.”

Editor’s Notes


The people aren’t that weird in Oregon. They drink the same coffee we do, and the same beer, and they’re just as surprised as we are that a team from the land of Beavers and Ducks will be playing in the Rose Bowl. It rains a lot, so they don’t worry about water the way we do — in some places, you can actually take a shower with an old-fashioned spigot that pours an unconstrained and luxurious flow that would be illegal in most of California — but generally speaking, it’s not like an alien territory.
But the Oregon government took a radically different approach to the state’s budget problems over the summer. The governor and the Legislature passed measures to raise taxes on households with incomes of more than $260,000 a year and corporations with profits of more than $10 million. The bills also cut taxes on unemployment benefits. The deal would bring in $737 million and avoid deep cuts in essential public services.
Of course, some things don’t stop at state lines: antitax activists have forced a referendum on the new taxes, and in January, in a vote-by-mail ballot, Oregonians will decide whether to reject the tax plan. The newspapers are full of discussions on the impact, and the message is clear: Scrap the taxes and teachers will face layoffs, schools will face serious problems, and other public services will suffer.
I was up visiting over Thanksgiving, and I asked a friend what he thought would happen. He was pretty confident that the taxes would be retained: “I don’t know anyone who makes more than $260,000 a year.”
Of course, they don’t have a two-thirds majority requirement to raise taxes — and while Republicans all over have become little more than obstructionist troglodytes, Oregon Republicans haven’t all signed the “no-new-taxes” pledge required of every GOP legislator in California.
Even so, you have to wonder: Why can’t we do that here?
The answer, I think, is that we can — not necessarily on a statewide level (where anything progressive seems almost impossible today) but right here at home in San Francisco.
A poll commissioned by SEIU Local 1021, which came out while I was away, showed that a majority of San Francisco voters would support a broad range of new taxes, from a five-cent-a-drink tax on alcoholic beverages to a $10 a car tax on motor vehicles to an increase in the hotel tax. The poll didn’t ask about a tax on incomes of more than $260,000, but I bet the results would be about the same.
So what’s headed for the June ballot? Well, at this point all I hear is that the mayor wants to fund the expansion of Moscone Center with $140 million in revenue bonds — and might want to designate a hike in the hotel tax to pay for it. That’s a great way to set priorities — the health care system is in total collapse, Muni lines are getting shut down … and we’re going to use new tax revenue for a convention center expansion.
This comes just after the mayor announced he wasn’t going to spend the money to save critical public health services. Perhaps he’ll find some spiritual guidance on his trip to India.

Supes to vote on restoring DPH cuts (again)


By Rebecca Bowe

This afternoon, a special meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee will be held to determine whether to take roughly $8 million out of the Department of Public Health reserve — money that’s already spoken for, but that some Supervisors say will be replenished before the next budget cycle — in order to stave off layoffs and salary cuts to front-line city workers in the Department of Public Health. Directly after the special meeting, the item will go before the full Board for a vote at today’s meeting.

SEIU Local 1021, the union representing city workers who’ve been pitted in an ongoing battle with mayor since the budget cuts were announced, has done its best to line up the eight votes needed to restore the cuts, leaning heavily on Sup. Sophie Maxwell to reverse her prior position by robo-calling in her district and encouraging political heavyweights to urge her to support the item.

On a conference call yesterday afternoon, Assembly Member Tom Ammiano said the city should count on stimulus dollars generated by Assembly Bill 1383 to refund the roughly $8 million.

“There seems to be a dispute about those funds, but we took the extra step to get the funding,” Ammiano said, noting that he worked with Assembly Member Dave Jones on the legislation that secures the money for public health services. “They pulled the trigger much too early here,” Ammiano said, referring to the layoffs. Noting that the mayor seemed to be disputing the purpose of the funding, Ammiano said, “I thought the purpose was to prevent layoffs.”

When asked what the Mayor Gavin Newsom thought the money should be used for, his press secretary, Joe Arellano, indicated that Newsom disagrees that it should be applied to stave off immediate layoffs. “The funds will ultimately will be used to prevent layoffs and other cuts, since, assuming it comes to us in time to apply toward next year’s deficit, it will reduce the cuts we need to make in order to balance,” Arellano said.

Check back here later for an update.

Editor’s Notes


You can see the city’s next fiscal crisis, and all the bloodshed it will involve, sticking up its ugly head at the Board of Supervisors these days.

The immediate issue on the table is a supplemental appropriation of $7 million to save the jobs of some 500 frontline public health workers who are scheduled to receive pink slips this month. But the deeper issue is how the supervisors are going to deal with the fundamental unfairness of the mayor’s budget — particularly as the issue gets reopened this winter. Because the city’s finances are not improving, and it’s almost certain that there will have to be midyear changes. And — sadly — there’s no indication that Mayor Gavin Newsom is going to be any more willing to work with the board and look for progressive solutions than he was in the summer.

The budget deal the supervisors signed off on in June wasn’t such a good deal at all, in part because it rested on Newsom’s promise to work toward a revenue measure for the November ballot. In retrospect, San Francisco missed an opportunity here — lots of Bay Area cities went to the ballot with tax increases to head off service cuts, and voters approved nearly all of them.

But Newsom never tried very hard to convince his allies on the board to go along with that plan and let the whole thing slide, putting the city in the position where layoffs that will cut deeply into the public health infrastructure are moving forward.

And now seven supervisors — all of the progressives plus Bevan Dufty — are ready to take an emergency step to stop the layoffs. They’re willing to put $7 million in reserve money up front, now. And if they can convince Sophie Maxwell to change her position and join them, the board will put the ball right back in the mayor’s court.

The thing is, the city’s budget crisis never really goes away. It’s a structural imbalance; save for the occasional boom years, San Francisco simply doesn’t bring in enough revenue to cover the costs of services people in this city want and need. It’s much worse in a recession, of course, but it’s always bad. And it’s going to remain an annual problem until the folks at City Hall make some major structural changes.

If, for example, we really want to avoid raising any new taxes — Newsom’s line — then we have to downsize, and the only fair way to do that is to start at the top. There are highly paid managementlevel people all over this city who don’t do nearly as much work in a week as a typical nurse’s aide does every day. The rampant cronyism slowed down after Mayor Willie Brown left office, but it never went away. A lot of Brown appointees still have cush jobs, and Newsom has added to the list. None of those folks ever get laid off.

With the layoffs scheduled this month, more than 1,000 members of SEIU Local 1021 — the union that represents frontline workers — will have been laid off. How many members of the Management Employees Association? Exactly 25.

And if we’re not going to look at radical restructuring, starting with department organization and management, then we have to bring in more money. That’s taxes, Gavin. In fact, to make this city solvent for the future we should probably do both.

Nobody wants to talk about that, though. So the women who hold the public health system together get canned, the wealthy enjoy low taxes, and the crisis goes one, year after year.

I hope Sup. Maxwell realizes what this is about — because if she votes the right way, it might actually force the mayor to make some of those tough choices he loves to talk about.

Controller, in radical move, defies supes


By Tim Redmond

In a move that’s unprecedented in modern San Francisco history, city controller Ben Rosenfield appears poised to try to block the Board of Supervisors from approving a $7 million supplemental budget appropriation to prevent 500 layoffs of frontline health department workers.

It’s the latest twist in a convoluted battle that pits SEIU Local 1021 and the progressives on the board against the mayor, who wants to lay off nurses aides and clerical workers.

In a budgetmessage posted today, Rosenfield says that the city is running $53 million in the red, and that “until this shortfall is addressed, the Controller’s Office will not be able to certify funds from the General Fund Reserve for other appropriations.”

Rosenfield, a Newsom appointee, is apparently relying on a very old City Charter section that looks like this:

S.F. Charter Sec. 9.113 (d) “General Fiscal Provisions”

No ordinance or resolution for the expenditure of money, except the
annual appropriation ordinance, shall be passed by the Board of
Supervisors unless the Controller first certifies to the Board that
there is a sufficient unencumbered balance in a fund that may legally be
used for such proposed expenditure, and that, in the judgment of the
Controller, revenues as anticipated in the appropriation ordinance for
such fiscal year and properly applicable to meet such proposed
expenditures will be available in the treasury in sufficient amount to
meet the same as it becomes due.

But in my 25 years of covering City Hall, I have never once seen this happen. There have been bad budget deficits before, and supplemental appropriations, and the controller has never told the supervisors that they can’t spend reserve money.

“About the only thing Rosenfield and I agree on is that this has never been done before,” Sup. Chris Daly told me this evening.

The controller’s report notes that several city departments are running over budget — but interestingly, Human Services and Public Health, the targets of the layoffs, are running a surplus of $8.1 million (exactly what the supervisors want to spend).

Among those departments facing shortfalls: The Sheriff’s Office, which is in the red because of “an increase in jail population” — possibly due to the new police chief’s crackdown on drug dealing in the Tenderloin.

I couldn’t reach Rosenfield tonight, but Daly notes that the same legislation was before the board last week, and Rosenfield didn’t object. “So he’s already certified it,” Daly said. “And I’m not sure how he can decertify it now.”

I’m not going to argue that the city has money to burn, but there are always mid-year budget changes in bad times. The supes and the mayor are going to have to make some budget adjustments. But there’s also unanticipated money coming in — for example, San Francisco stands to get about $33 million in federal stimulus money for the Department of Public Health in April, and that funding will be retroactive to the previous year. So this year’s shortfall will actually be $33 million less.

Tina Johnson, a legislative affairs staffer for the state Department of Health Care Services, confirmed the near-certain availability of that money in a Nov. 16th letter to state Sen. Leland Yee.

In any other year, I suspect the controller would follow the normal practice of informing the mayor and the supes that the budget was out of line (as it is, in one way or another, almost every year) and then allow them to come up with some mid-year corrections. But this battle between Local 1021 and the mayor has gotten ugly, and I’m sure there was pressure on Rosenfield.

Look for a showdown at the board meeting tomorrow (Nov. 17). Daly told me that whatever Rosenfield says, “we’re going to have a vote on this.”

Inside the mayor’s office with SEIU Local 1021


By Rebecca Bowe

Yesterday, around 4 p.m., 22 union members rushed into the mayor’s office (the plush reception area on the other side of those stately double doors) and demanded to meet with Mayor Gavin Newsom. Immediately blocked by security from continuing all the way to the mayor, they vowed to wait — and remained there for about two hours. The protesters were there as representatives or supporters of SEIU Local 1021, which has launched a months-long fight against Newsom in the wake of layoffs and deep salary cuts in the Department of Public Health inflicted by city budget cuts.

In the City Hall corridor just outside the mayor’s office, scores of other SEIU members gathered in support of those inside the reception area. Chants, cheers, and the refrain from Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” could be heard from outside. The SEIU members inside, meanwhile, circled up and prepared to be arrested. Meanwhile, the clerks working in the reception area continued diligently working away at their desks. (Each of the mayoral staffers declined to comment. At one point, mayoral spokesman Nathan Ballard walked through the room, and the union members hollered at him to please ask the mayor to show some leadership. “Will do,” he said with a smile, and disappeared behind a door.)

The mayor never showed. Nor did any clash take place between the union members and the plainclothes security officers who were coolly guarding the doors leading out to the corridor and back to the mayor’s actual office. The union members stayed until approximately 6:15 p.m., chanting, singing, delivering impromptu speeches, and resolving that they would keep up the fight. Here’s what it was like in there.

They finally negotiated an exit with the security officers, and joined the others outside the doors.

Then, they flooded into the street outside City Hall with the other workers and proceeded to circle around the intersection of Polk and McAllister. Sup. Chris Daly joined them and thanked them for their work, vowing to do what he could to restore the cuts.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors voted seven to four to dip into the General Fund reserve to restore the jobs of certified nursing assistants and unit clerks in the city’s Department of Public Health.

But after it was announced that the ordinance had passed on first reading, and the SEIU workers who’d packed the Board Chambers let out a celebratory whoop, some one pointed out that eight votes were needed for approval. The measure had actually failed — and the disappointment in the room was palpable.

Chop from the top


At the Oct. 23 groundbreaking ceremony for the rebuild of San Francisco General Hospital, Mayor Gavin Newsom sang the praises of the public hospital’s staff.

"To all the men and women who work in this remarkable place that changes people’s lives each and every day … every time I come here, I realize you’re not just saving patients, you’re taking care of families," the mayor said. "It’s so difficult to see someone in pain. But to see the smile and the pride their loved ones have because of the job you guys have done is something magical."

Yet some health care workers, marked by their signature purple and yellow T-shirts, clearly weren’t feeling the magic. As Newsom waxed poetic onstage, they stood clustered in the audience displaying a banner proclaiming, "Keep Public Health Healthy." It was meant as a reminder that SEIU Local 1021, the union that represents certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and clerical workers facing significant slashes in pay in the wake of a city budget cuts, is still pushing to have their salaries restored.

On Sept. 15, 500 CNAs and clerical workers received notice that they would be laid off, although some would be reclassified at lower-paying positions, effective Nov. 15. For the CNAs being demoted, the reductions amount to an average of $15,000 annual reduction in pay. For the clerical workers facing downgrades, the cuts reflect an average loss of $5,000.

It wasn’t the first time SEIU workers turned out at one of Newsom’s public appearances. Beginning in August, union members began vocally characterizing the layoffs and demotions as a civil ights issue because they disproportionately affect women and people of color. According to a Department of Public Health assessment, 96 percent of the affected employees are people of color and 79 percent are women.

Mayoral Chief of Staff Steve Kawa insisted this wasn’t an attack on the city’s comparable-worth policy, which guarantees equal pay for work done primarily by women. "We would not do anything against comparable worth, " Kawa told the Guardian. "Even with the change in status in the wage, these workers will be making 18 percent above market."

But Sup. John Avalos framed it differently. "These people are some of the lowest paid frontline workers in the city," he pointed out a recent Board of Supervisors meeting. "I have spoken to many of them in my district. They’re often single women who are raising children, who don’t know how they’re going to survive."

After angry SEIU members made a series of boisterous appearances at Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign events, the mayor finally agreed to meet with them in talks that were mediated by San Francisco Labor Council head Tim Paulson.

"[Newsom] complained at some length during the first meeting about us attacking him," noted SEIU member Ed Kinchley. "We responded that we’re really not attacking him. What we were criticizing was a policy that goes after classifications filled predominantly by women and people of color."

The ongoing flap took a new twist at the Oct. 22 Board of Supervisors meeting, when Sups. Avalos and Chris Daly each announced plans to find funding to restore the public health workers’ salaries. Avalos proposed skimming some excess from management positions, which have swelled in recent years.

"Before cutting vital city services … we should first look to those who have the most, not to those who have the least," Avalos noted. He said he plans to ask the city controller to draft an annual salary ordinance that would reclassify top management positions in order to free enough funding to stop the demotions and wage reductions for the CNAs and clerical workers.

According to a report issued by the city controller, citywide management positions have grown from 739 in budget year 1998-99 to 1,075 in 2008-09, a 68 percent increase. Some individuals were promoted with salary increases ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 annually.

"I don’t know how one does that," Kawa said when asked about Avalos’ proposal. "It doesn’t make any sense to me."

Daly, meanwhile, noted that Department of Public Health Chief Financial Officer Gregg Sass had highlighted a preliminary projection for an $8 million DPH budget surplus in a Sept. 15 memo. Daly announced that he plans to request the money be flagged to go back into the department to stave off deskilling of frontline workers.

When asked if this money was available to fund the CNAs and clerical workers, Sass responded, "I don’t think it is." Emphasizing that it’s a preliminary figure, he added that "any additional funding, should it exist, is a component of the city’s overall ability to stay on budget this year and offset any shortfalls in city revenue … and address the large projected deficit for next year. I don’t see how it could be seen as ‘available’ until the city has better projections of [other tax revenue]."

The union had planned for a lengthy session with mayoral staff to continue negotiations on the same day of the supervisors’ meeting. But when Kawa learned about Avalos’ proposed legislation, he got angry and walked out, according to one SEIU member.

Asked if proposed legislation detracted from the negotiations, Kawa told us that "it made the last one difficult because it was somewhat of a surprise. And usually when you’re in good-faith negotiations, you share with the other folks the activities you’re up to so that you know that they’re actually there to negotiate in good faith."

Back at SF General after the groundbreaking ceremony, Newsom posed for photos with top public health officials, scooping shovels full of loose dirt with golden spades. The giddy atmosphere dissipated when the mayor turned around to find himself ringed by a group of reporters vying for a chance to pepper him with questions. He responded to most of their queries in typical loquacious fashion. But when the Guardian asked him to comment on Avalos’ proposed legislation, his face darkened slightly. "I don’t have any comment," he responded gruffly. Then he was whisked away for more photographs.

Editor’s Notes


The folks at SEIU Local 1021 have been getting the mayor’s panties in a bunch lately — and it’s caused Newsom to make something of an ass of himself.

The union, which represents city employees, is still seething about the mayor’s failure to follow through on a deal he cut during the summer budget crunch. The way it was supposed to work, the union members gave $38 million in concessions, and Newsom agreed to hold off on major layoffs until this November — when he was going to support a measure to raise new revenue for San Francisco.

That never happened, and the layoff notices — more than 600 of them — have gone out, mostly to women of color who work on the front lines in the Department of Public Health. At the same time, the city’s forcing some skilled workers into lower-paid job classifications, in essence slicing their pay by more than 20 percent.

So the union put out a flyer demanding that Newsom stop the layoffs — and when a Local 1021 member handed it to the mayor at an event Sept. 28, Newsom went ballistic. According to union member (and certified nursing assistant assistant) Evalyn Morales, the mayor "said, ‘this is a lie,’" referring to the flyer. He then went on to say: "I don’t want to do anything to deal with the union. I hate Robert [SEIU organizer Robert Haaland]. What you’re doing now is hurting me … I hate Robert. I don’t want to do anything for the union."

Which is all too typical of how Newsom responds to criticism — particularly when the critics are going around to his gubernatorial campaign events and reminding people that this is the mayor who, like (Republican) Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, produced an all cuts, no-new-taxes budget. He gets pissy. He loses his shit. He looks like … well, like someone who isn’t quite ready to be the governor of the nation’s most populous and probably most complex and contentious state.