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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Did the Mayor Break His Promise to SEIU?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 2:30 PM

Supervisor John Avalos speaks at today's SEIU rally
  • Supervisor John Avalos speaks at today's SEIU rally
Unionized social workers staged a rally in front of San Francisco's Human Services Agency (HSA) building today, with labor organizers claiming that Mayor Gavin Newsom has reneged on his end of a budget deal hashed out earlier this year.

The organizers, from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the city's largest union, assert that $38 million given up to the city during contract negotiations with the mayor's office this spring and summer has not been rewarded, as promised, with new-found revenue to prevent layoffs in the ranks of the city's social workers.

Said SEIU Political Coordinator Robert Haaland, "Why would we ever in the future agree to any wage concessions when all we got was a broken promise?"

Newsom's press office did not return calls for comment.

Labor organizers estimate that as many as 700 jobs could be eliminated this fall, many of them low-paid, front-line positions such as HSA clerical workers, nursing assistants, and child welfare workers. "Chop from the top" -- a demand that higher-paid managerial positions be cut instead -- was a common refrain at today's rally.

Supervisor John Avalos speaks at today's SEIU rally
  • Supervisor John Avalos speaks at today's SEIU rally
Attending was Supervisor John Avalos, chairman of the city's Budget and Finance Committee. In an interview, Avalos said he was looking for additional sources of revenue to prevent layoffs, but didn't cite any quick fixes. One option he's said he's considering would be to propose placing a five-cent fee on bottles of alcoholic beverages, which he said could bring in from $15 to $25 million in funds for treating alcoholism-related health problems.

While not so strident as labor organizers, Avalos agreed with their criticism of Newsom for failing to come up with more money. "I think the mayor could be more aggressive about trying to find solutions, and he wasn't," Avalos said.

The question of whether Newsom acted in good faith when negotiating with SEIU echoes comments by Newsom critics in a Sept. 9 SF Weekly cover story on the mayor's gubernatorial run. In that story, former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told Weekly staff writer Ashley Harrell that the mayor's "word was ubiquitously known to be bad."

We'll see how big this dust-up gets. SEIU could certainly make plenty of trouble for Newsom on the campaign trail, should the union choose to do so.

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Peter Jamison

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