The Board of Supervisors voted to appropriate nearly $2 million Tuesday to waylay nearly 500 public health layoffs and demotions set to take effect this month, but it is unlikely Mayor Gavin Newsom will approve spending the money.
“Even if all 11 of us vote on this, the Mayor is not going to spend this money. You are giving these employees false hope,” said Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, addressing the board before the vote. “It does not matter if this passes, these job de-classifications are not going to be turned around.”
The Board has the power to appropriate money, but decisions regarding whether or not the money is actually spent lies with the Mayor, said Monique Zmuda, San Francisco’s deputy controller.
Last week, the controller proclaimed the city’s coffers empty and rescinded supplemental expenditures by the Board unless more revenue is raised or cuts are made to the current budget.
To get around the spending freeze, the Board voted by 8 to 3 to cut money reserved for future spending on salaries of existing workers at San Francisco General Hospital.
The money was then rerouted to temporarily reinstate nearly 300 certified nurse assistants and all of the Department of Public Health’s clerical staff for two months.
City policy allows employees with seniority to bump others in the same job category at other city institutions when facing layoffs.
That means reinstating the health workers would also temporarily halt the displacement of clerical workers throughout the city.
Since the Board doesn’t currently have any money to allocate, they are counting on future increases in revenue to pay for the reinstated positions.
“They’re betting that they’re going to be able to increase their revenues in the future to be able to pay everyone’s salaries,” Zmuda said.
“If those revenues don’t come in, then DPH is going to be in a large deficit, and they will have to make additional cuts beyond the original layoffs in order to come up with the money.”
But those revenue increases remain projections because they depend on approval from the federal government, and there’s no guarantee any increases would go to the Department of Public Health, said City and County Controller Ben Rosenfield.
On Monday, more than 200 members of SEIU 1021 held a protest at City Hall, demanding job restorations for workers facing layoffs and demotions.
The action ended with the arrest of nearly 20 protesters, who blocked traffic on Market Street and refused to move.
Supervisor David Campos, who cosponsored the ordinance to restore the public health cutbacks, said most employees facing layoffs or demotions are people of color or women amongst the city’s lowest paid workers.
Even if the revenue increase the Board is counting on doesn’t come through, redistributing city cutbacks more equitably is the fairest way to deal with reductions in spending, Campos said.
“I don’t believe that we as city government want to unduly burden those who are amongst the lowest paid in the system,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say to all employees that you’re going to have to share the pain.”
That argument received loud applause from the public, but the controller said spending money the City doesn’t currently have could be dangerous, and it is unlikely the Mayor will approve allocating the money to restore the jobs being fought for.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about when or if we would receive these funds,” Rosenfield said. “Regardless, all signs from the Mayor indicate that he won’t authorize the funds be spent given all the questions that remain.”