Newsom explores cutting city workers' hours

February 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is floating the idea of a shortened work week for thousands of city employees, but the extra time off would come with a pay cut. Now the city's biggest union is upset at the idea.

Newsom says the city is $500 million over budget. He does not want to have to lay off workers, so he is just exploring the idea of cutting about a third of the city's workforce back to 37.5 hours a week instead of 40.

At the gates of Chinatown, public works employee Ron Carmichael does not like the plan.

"I'd rather stay with the 40 hours a week. That's how I feel," says Carmichael.

City workers say the mayor floated the same idea last year, but many were not wild about the idea.

The proposal calls for firing 10,000 of the city's employees and then hiring most of them back at 37.5 hours a week instead of 40.

"At part time status, we can save tens of millions of dollars and save arguably thousands of city jobs," says Newsom.

Newsom says he understands the unions do not like the idea.

"I think a much worse idea is thousands of layoffs and if they have a better idea, that's why I'm meeting them at 4 o'clock today," says Newsom.

SEIU president of Local 1021 Damita Davis-Howard represents 57,000 workers, including most of those who would face a cut in hours.

"I believe most of those will be our members," says Davis-Howard. "We're angry. The workers of this city and county are so angry right now."

Davis-Howard says the cut represents a 6.25 percent pay cut.

"It could be the difference between foreclosure and staying in a home. It could be the difference between a child having the opportunity to go to college or not," says Davis-Howard.

Davis-Howard says the mayor pitched the same hourly cut last year, but workers opted for giving up holiday pay. Outside City Hall on Tuesday afternoon the proposal did not have a lot of support.

"We lost 11 floating holidays. We don't get pay at all, so to hear this it's shocking to me," says Myrna Flores, a San Francisco Assessor office employee.

Police and firefighters would be among those workers exempt from the cut back. Charles Thompson works in the city's Department of Technology and says the mayor's plan does have some merit.

"I would do it if they fired me and hired me back at 37.5 hours I would keep my job," says Thompson.

Newsom said earlier he planned to meet with the union president Thursday afternoon and that did happen before 4 p.m. Davis-Howard said she would suggest hiking fees, rather than cutting workers' hours. When pressed to elaborate on which fees she would be in favor of raising, she said she did not know and would have to figure that out with the mayor in a meeting. She knew that if she said she wanted a certain fee hiked, or someone taxed, that would make the union very unpopular, so she would not elaborate at all.