Twenty-odd years ago, a frenetic outdoor expert addressed your humble narrator's Boy Scout troop. At one point, while wildly gesticulating, he tossed us a hypothetical: "Okay, you're lost alone in the woods; it's cold out and you've got no food or water. What's the worst thing you can do?" He was taken aback by the smartest kid in the troop's instantaneous answer: "Die." Of course that's the "right" answer, even if it isn't "correct." Sometimes the results of our actions can be far, far more dire than anyone predicted.
All of which leads us to the SEIU Local 1021's disastrous vote last week to spurn
a meticulously worked-out concession deal -- that still
would have awarded city workers a 3.75 percent raise. The aftermath of this sorry tally was to immediately punch a $38 million hole in the city's already woeful budget numbers. But, for the union workers -- and, one could argue, for the constituency they serve -- the effects were arguably even more dire. It allows Mayor Gavin Newsom the chance to begin dismissing SEIU people with the abandon of Cosmo G. Spacely
-- and to do so with the public's understanding and even blessing. Simply put, city folk fighting to maintain employment of any sort (or not) aren't going to shed a tear over the departure of city laborers who turned up their noses at a raise (you can read the full text of the SEIU's spurned deal here
; I have a sinking feeling many of the union voters did not bother to do so).
What an epic miscalculation. For whomever Gavin Newsom is (and we're not sure, we really aren't) he's not a man to spare the whip when harsh behavior suits him. Lay off 1,000 or so members of a progressive-aligned union whose arrogant behavior potentially infuriated many ostensibly sympathetic San Franciscans? Wow, twist the mayor's arm!
Actually, purging the city's SEIU ranks is a walk in the park compared to some of the other manipulative acts Newsom has undertaken as mayor. Has anyone really ever figured out why, running against the weakest mayoral opposition since Dianne Feinstein vanquished the White Panthers, he insisted that every city department head and commission member submit a resignation letter? Whatever theory you buy into
, this is what matters: Whether it was to spur stagnant fund-raising for Newsom's certain electoral victory or target a few folks he had it out for or, as he maintained, to make everyone work that much harder, hundreds and hundreds of people were made to jump through contrived hoops and live on pins and needles regarding their futures and livelihoods so Newsom could pull off a political stunt. But, no one cared. These weren't people per se, they're bureaucrats -- and, as Republican strategist Dan Schnur told SF Weekly at the time
, jerking around bureaucrats not only doesn't bother voters -- it's a downright plus.
"Sure, this'll alienate some bureaucrats at City Hall and make some
commissioners unhappy. But the overwhelming majority of voters will see
this as a positive thing," Schnur said. "This is how he shows [voters] he's not resting on his laurels,
he's planning an aggressive second term and taking on new issues and
new challenges. He could coast into re-election without saying a word
but this signals a new team and a new start. It's a smart message to send."
Hey, how's that second term going? How are those "new challenges" working out? But I digress.
As for why 56 percent of the SEIU rank and file voted down their own bargaining team's negotiated settlement, I can offer no certainties. Was it a statement against the national machinations between Andy Stern and Sal Roselli? Perhaps -- and, if so, it's yet another example of why symbolic voting is a poor idea in an election with real consequences on the line. Did SEIU workers selfishly decide to take their chances that they wouldn't be the ones let go and essentially state "what's mine is mine"? Or, as we mentioned before, did they simply not read up on what was being voted on and what the ramifications of a "no" vote could be? If so, this reflects poorly on both the SEIU's rank and file and its leadership for failure to communicate. The SEIU negotiator we spoke to last week was shocked and emotionally crushed by the electoral defeat; other SEIU workers have said that it's not fair that they could lose their jobs after voting "yes" to the concessions. No, it's not -- but it rains on the just and unjust alike.
Finally, while the SEIU did endorse Newsom in his last mayoral run, to do otherwise would have been orders of magnitude more boneheaded than the results of last week's vote; Newsom was winning that race even if he decided to show up to work in a superhero costume and refer to himself as The L'Oreal Avenger. In reality, the SEIU Local 1021 is closely aligned with the city's progressives -- so the mayor is not stiffing any of his buddies by decimating their ranks.
Progressive supervisors like John Avalos -- a former labor organizer -- obviously have political reasons when they call for alternatives to layoffs. But that doesn't mean Avalos is wrong -- far from it. The rich and middle class in this city may be inconvenienced by 1,000 SEIU workers receiving their walking papers. But for folks waiting in line for an overburdened intake nurse at General Hospital, this is a big deal. These inevitable service cuts, no matter how justified, will inevitably hurt the weakest and most vulnerable among us that much more.
Ask the folks in the waiting room over at General what the worst thing you can do is when you're lost alone in the woods. Bet you they get it right.