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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Labor Groups, Babies, Very Old People, Supes Rally Against Rec & Park Cuts -- But Layoffs May Already Be Fait Accompli

Posted By on Thu, Feb 19, 2009 at 3:58 PM

click to enlarge Supervisor John Avalos told Rec & Parks workers he'd like to help them -- but he has no idea how. He still got a friendly round of applause
  • Supervisor John Avalos told Rec & Parks workers he'd like to help them -- but he has no idea how. He still got a friendly round of applause
Fashion-wise, children often make the best accessories. Far better than purple tchochkes -- but at today's SEIU City Hall rally on behalf of soon-to-be laid off San Francisco recreation directors, there were plenty of both. A succession of Recreation & Parks Department workers, labor leaders, baby-toting moms, little kids, a bevy of elderly Chinese people from the Portsmouth Square Rec Center, and two supervisors delivered variously impassioned, snappy, and audible versions of a general theme: The city is liquidating the front-line workers who deal with generations of neighborhood kids but features a top-heavy, bloated class of highly compensated managers. This is being done so the city can contract out Rec & Park positions to private non-profits -- and the whole thing stinks! 

For the 51 "full-time equivalent" employees who will receive layoff notices on Feb. 27, hope may spring eternal -- but even a loose reading between the lines of what was said by our elected officials indicates city recreation directors ought to dust off those resumes.

"I wish there was more I could do to prevent these cuts, but I don't know what to do about this," admitted Supervisor John Avalos in front of a crowd of around 100 or so. "The best thing I can do is understand your pain and walk back into my committees and fight for every dollar for parks, libraries, and children. I'm with you on the long-term in this fight."

Left unsaid, however, is that in the short-term, folks are going to get canned.

Supervisor David Chiu added that he "wants to protect the services that are most critical -- that includes recreation centers -- and our front-line workers as opposed to those who are mid-level."

That received a warm round of applause, as did Avalos' pledge that he wished he could help. After the speech, however, Chiu told SF Weekly that the pending deep cuts were only a reaction to the $115 million in mid-year budget cuts -- not the $570 million or so in projected shortfall that has everyone sweating down the backs of their suit jackets. Chiu told us that he's most concerned with preventing Rec & Parks from liquidate its staff in reaction to the coming hard times. In the short term, it appears what's done is done.

Following his speech, Avalos told SF Weekly that "only the mayor" could save the jobs of those scheduled to be jettisoned next week. Even Rec & Parks Director Jared Blumenfeld's hands are tied -- "Jared can't do it; he has his mandate to close $11.4 million," said Avalos.   

Blumenfeld showed up for a committee meeting at the tail end of the rally -- which, for lack of a better word, was awkward. He said the SEIU was, understandably, attempting to protect its own -- "I've got 18 labor groups to negotiate with. They're one. People are being let go; obviously it's an issue. It's tough." The director added that layoffs were his only option to make the $11.4 million in fiscal cuts demanded by the city: "68 percent of our budget is people. At some point all that's left is people. The question is, what people?"

That answer would hardly satiate those at the rally, however, who accused Rec & Parks of using the budget crisis as an excuse to push through long-desired plans to "privatize the department." Avalos was one of many who made that accusation, which he feels fits in with a "starve the beast mentality."

Robert Haaland, an organizer for the SEIU, said Rec & Parks, like the rest of the city, has skimped on hiring front-line personnel while bloating its managerial ranks. He urged the city to "chop from the top," which was an easily repeatable slogan.

Yet it's a rallying cry that is easier said than done. For the recreation directors who've been tossing balls and shooting hoops with generations of city kids, the clock may have already run out.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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