Public employees feel blindsided by Newsom’s layoff scheme

Mayor Gavin Newsom made business tax cuts the centerpiece of his Jan. 13 State of the City speech

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.