In the latest current fiscal crisis, the San Francisco Fire Department had three ways to trim its budget: layoffs, closing fire stations, or working a longer week. With the first two political poison, a progressive supervisor picked the working option — earning him a declaration of war from San Francisco Firefighters’ Local 798.
Supervisor John Avalos is no stranger to fights with the fire union. After he proposed legislation that would have saved the city millions by extending firefighters’ workweeks by four hours, the District 11 freshman was at the center of an angry, organized campaign, with his constituents receiving robocalls and the firefighters driving a truck full of signs and firefighters calling for his recall up and down Mission Street in the heart of his district.
Union head John Hanley promised a “strong” rebuttal campaign in the spring time. And this time, it could be worse for Avalos, thanks to colleague Chris Daly. Daly last Tuesday introduced another firefighter-related ballot measure, this one calling for a zero tolerance alcohol use policy for firefighters on duty.
“It’s, ‘Let’s beat up on fireighters,'” Hanley said. “It’s a direct attack on [fire] Chief [Joanne] Hayes-White, meant to discredit her and the department.”
Last summer, Daly raised eyebrows when he issued a passionate request to Avalos at the eleventh hour of budget negotiations, asking his former legislative aide to “help me help you” (as in help him win a promise from Mayor Gavin Newsom that the mayor would not slash away hard-won budget add-backs in progressive causes like health and human services).
If Daly wants to help Avalos now, he didn’t do it Tuesday: Avalos said he asked Daly to hold back on the proposal. Still, Avalos — who is a co-sponsor of a $616 million public safety bond measure that pledges $85 million to fire station improvements — is ready to proceed on the workweek extension (which wouldn’t go into effect until after the firefighters’ current contract expires at the end of June 2011 anyhow).
“We have a serious problem, a structured problem, and (the charter amendment ) is a good government solution,” he said. “Chief Hayes-White said there’s only three ways to cut the budget — layoffs, fire station brownouts, or longer hours. What else is there?”