Previously: City Workers Pissed About Getting Laid Off Today

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom this morning defended his plan to reduce the work hours of about 15,000 city employees, who began receiving layoff notices today, as a “dramatic reform” measure to help stave off a historic budget deficit.

Newsom reiterated his words earlier this week that the “overwhelming majority” of the noticed workers would be rehired at 37.5 hours per week instead of 40 hours, but he refused to specify a number.

“I’ve been lawyered up,” he said.

The city, which employs approximately 26,000 people, is facing an estimated $522 million general fund budget deficit.

“The reason I’m doing this is to save people’s jobs and to save city services,” Newsom said.

Rather than laying off “thousands” outright, the measure will preserve workers’ jobs and benefits, Newsom said.

“It is a dramatic reform,” he said.

The plan will save the city an estimated $50 million.

Newsom acknowledged the amount is “a drop in the bucket,” and warned more layoffs would be necessary.

Unions today condemned the proposal.

“We think it’s unnecessary and not really legal for the mayor to be doing this,” said Bob Muscat, executive director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, which represents about 4,000 engineers, architects, and Internet technology and public health employees.

Muscat said he believes a majority of his union’s employees would be getting the notices today. They will not go into effect until May.

According to Muscat, “just about every labor agreement” in the city defines workers’ contracts as 40-hour workweeks.

“It’s kind of a mean-spirited manipulation of the rules to avoid the contract obligation, and few employers can get away with that,” he said.

Muscat also chairs the Public Employee Committee for San Francisco, which comprises all the city’s public sector unions and is working together to put together a counter-proposal.

Newsom said on Wednesday, and repeated today, that his administration has been in discussions with labor groups for more than a year and has not received “any better ideas.”

“They chose not to engage…which was their right,” Newsom said.

Muscat called that assertion “completely inaccurate.”

“Everybody realizes that we have, probably, a historic problem here,” Muscat said.

The unions will propose that Newsom reduce the city’s outsourcing of labor, which Muscat said constituted “over a billion dollars,” and also that the salaries of the mayor, supervisors and high-level city managers be lowered.

“It has to be the same number as what city employees end up agreeing to,” Muscat said.

“So we’re not trying to run away from the problems,” he said. “We don’t want to be railroaded.”

“I know that this is a difficult approach, but I think that this is a responsible choice under the circumstances,” Newsom said.

Newsom attempted to contrast his approach with those of other deficit-burdened cities such as Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles and New York City, where mayors are variously proposing steeper pay cuts, more layoffs or furlough days.

“In many ways, our labor unions here are doing much better with this proposal,” he said.
Newsom said that in addition to the decrease in hours for some, every city employee is being asked to decrease their wages by an equivalent 6.25 percent, including police officers and firefighters who cannot be included in the current proposal due to requirements in the city charter.

Newsom added that he’s asking his department heads to take 10-percent salary cuts, and that he and his chief of staff have already taken 15-percent pay cuts.

“We are all in this together,” he said.

According to the mayor’s budget director, Greg Wagner, because some of the approximately 60 department heads are elected officials–such as the district attorney, city attorney, the public defender and members of the board of supervisors–they would have to volunteer to give back portions of their salaries.

Wagner raised an eyebrow at the union’s “billion-dollar” outsourcing figure, but acknowledged that the city is trying to renegotiate some of its outsourcing contracts.

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