Supes move to restore salary cuts to public health workers

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By Rebecca Bowe

On Sept. 15, 500 certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and clerical workers with San Francisco’s Department of Public Health received pink slips informing them that they would be declassified out of their current jobs, and rehired at lower-paying positions.

The difference in terms of job responsibilities is slight, but money-wise, the downgrades represent a $15,000 annual pay cut on average for CNAs, and a $5,000 annual pay cut on average for clerical workers. Many of the people affected by the cuts are single moms who make less than $40,000 per year, so the income loss is significant.

At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Sups. John Avalos and Chris Daly each pitched ideas that could bump those public health workers’ salaries back up. Avalos’ proposal would bolster the front-line workers’ salaries by skimming some excess from higher-ranking city jobs.

“Before cutting vital city services, if the city is going to reduce the wages of city workers, we should first look to those who have the most, not those who have the least,” Avalos said.

“Last year, a Controller’s report revealed that the city has become increasingly management-heavy, and revealed that over the last few years, MEA [Municipal Executive's Association] has grown from around 700 positions to nearly 1,100 positions. After some scrutiny, it became clear that most of those new positions were actually mid-managers being promoted up from Local 21 to MEA positions. Many of these mid-managers received substantial wage increases, ranging from as much as $20,000 to $40,000 annually. In short, they were reclassified up.”

He then announced his request to the city controller to draft an annual salary ordinance, which would reclassify top management positions to free up enough funding to stop the demotions and wage reductions for the lower-paid Department of Public Health employees.

Daly, speaking directly after Avalos submitted his proposal, noted that according to a Department of Public Health memo from the chief financial officer, there is a preliminary projection for an unexpected DPH surplus of approximately $8 million. “I’ve asked the controller to prepare a supplemental appropriation to flag this money back into the department, to attempt to avert the additional deskilling of workers within the health department,” Daly announced.

These proposals were floated even as SEIU Local 1021, the union that represents the city workers affected by the cuts, continued negotiations with the mayor’s office on the issue.

Back in August, we reported that the union was vocally characterizing the downgrades as a civil rights issue because they say it flies in the face of a citywide commitment to comparable worth, which ensures pay equity for jobs held predominantly by women and people of color. A demographic analysis of the affected employees revealed that 96 percent are people of color, and 79 percent are women. Across the board, these groups tend to earn less, so the comparable worth law sought to address that inequity.

Charging that the mayor had failed to uphold his promise to work on a revenue measure to restore the cuts, and that his budget cuts reversed San Francisco’s commitment to comparable worth, SEIU began applying pressure last month by following Newsom around and distributing fliers at his gubernatorial campaign events.

Several weeks ago, after the tension hit a fever pitch, the mayor finally broke down and agreed to negotiate. So far, Newsom's office hasn't yet returned calls for comment.