Furloughs mean empty halls

While the supervisors spent their time relaxing in places like Cancun, Calistoga, and China before returning to work earlier this month, their support staff divided the three-week break between work and unpaid vacation furlough days.

“We all had our ‘furlough Friday’ Labor Day weekend,” said Rick Galbreath, who works as a legislative assistant to Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi adding that it wasn’t all bad. “We had four days off which is pretty unheard of around here.”

Galbreath, along with other members of his office, has volunteered to take seven furlough days this year. That’s in addition to the 1.9 percent pay cut his union negotiated.

Sheila Chung Hagen, Legislative Aide to Supervisor David Campos, said she worked half the break and took the rest off to move into a new house.

Voluntary furloughs for city employees have been a cornerstone of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plan to close the $438 million budget deficit this year. The plan, part of an effort to avoid future layoffs, allows city employees to take up to 20 unpaid days off while keeping their full-time status and benefits.

“These types of solutions are important this year,” said Tom Jackson, who works as a legislative aide to Supervisor Chris Daly. “Everyone here is so integral to the work we do, it’s a small sacrifice to make.” He volunteered to use five furlough days to visit his grandmother in Hawaii.

The union that represents the supervisor’s support staff, Local 21 of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, negotiated five mandatory furlough days for their employees this year.  But instead of allowing the furlough days, the city opted instead to keep everyone working full time and cut the 1.92 percent from salaries.

That will save the city $61.2 million, according to the City Controller’s office. In addition to that savings, employees are also encouraged to use voluntary furlough days, like Jackson’s five-day trip to Hawaii, for short breaks and vacations.

For every additional furlough day that all city employees take, San Francisco will save more than $11.7 million. The city pays out an average of some $1.4 million per hour on a workday to city employees.

Dannielle Kronenberg hard at work in Supervisor John Avalos’ office

“Some people have different economic situations,” said City Labor Relations Manager Mary Hao. “Deducting one full day from people’s paychecks can be a rather large hit, so we tried to smooth it over the entire year.”

In addition to the furloughs, the city has made a number of holidays unpaid and cut-back on overtime and energy use.  After 400 city employees received layoff notices last December, and with hundreds more on the chopping block this year, cutting corners has become zero sum game around city hall.

Supervisors are ineligible to participate in the voluntary program. However the Civil Service Commission, the same commission that tripled the supervisors’ salaries after voters passed Measure J back in 2002, is required to lower the Supervisor’s salaries if other city employees take a cut.

In the end, they decided to cut the supervisors $98,660 salary by 2.45 percent, the equivalent of about $2,400 over the course of this year.

For custodian Isabel Leung and other part time employees, it was business as usual.  “We don’t really get vacation time anyway,” said Leung, adding that when she is able to take a trip, she would like to visit her family overseas.

For others, the workload was simply too much to get away. “I was here everyday,” said Jaime Cantwell, legislative aid to Supervisor David Chiu, “we need someone in the office to talk to constituents, there’s just too much to get done.” Support staff in the offices of Supervisor Carmen Chu, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Eric Mar’s offices also said they worked through the break.

Supervisor Avalos’ office has been working through their furlough days, which they volunteered to take once a month. However, the new Supervisor did treat his staff to a weekend trip to the Farallon islands over the break. “We’ve only been in office this year,” said Avalos aide France Hsieh, “everyone works so hard, we’re hoping to start a few fun traditions around here.”

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Born and raised in Seal Beach, California, Heather Duthie studied Political Science and Community Studies as an undergraduate. She went on to work on a number of documentary films and for Link Television. She has lived in the Mission District for the past 5 years, and currently covers government for Mission Loc@l.

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  1. Tough luck, the golden public employees have to suffer like everyone else, life sucks when your sense of entitlement gets a kick in the ass I guess.