Members of SEIU 1021 protest outside of City Hall on Monday night.

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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Last week, the controller proclaimed the city’s coffers empty and rescinded supplemental expenditures by the Board unless more revenue is raised or cuts are made to the current budget.

Supervisor John Avalos presents the ordinance to Board on Tuesday.
Supervisor John Avalos presents the proposal to the Board during its meeting.

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.”

State lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year that would increase Medicaid fees paid to the state by hospitals, potentially freeing up more money to pay public health salaries.

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.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell discusses appropriating funding with Supervisor Avalos during the meeting.
Supervisor Sophie Maxwell discusses the risks of appropriating funding with Supervisor Avalos.

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.”

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Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Bryan has a background in investigative reporting for newspapers and the radio. He is working the health beat for Mission Loc@l.

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  1. I didn’t know that being white meant that it was politically better to lay off versus someone who was non-white. Maybe someone who look at the actual ethnic make up of the city work force. The women & people of color statement, besides playing the race card, is like saying ‘60% of people laid off in the sunset are asian’ while the sunset has a 70% asian population’

    This political grandstanding is getting out of control and this current rookie board is the worst case of it in years.

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  2. I love progressive liberals so very much, the above comment is awesome, if certain people gravitate to certain jobs we can’t lay them off if those certain people are of a certain ethnic make up. The complaints of racism is somewhat turned around here Mr George Wallace.

    Also the people being let go have health insurance being paid for by the city for up to five years.

    The cities values mean that we hire all these people, some likely because of their ethnic makeup, but letting them go is racist.

    What a topsy turvey world progressive live in.

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  3. A key point missing from this article and some of the other news coverage is that the city workers getting laid off will be approx. 80-90% WOMEN OF COLOR. I find that to be astounding, and a shameful moment in our city’s history – not to mention racist and classist. Seriously, WTF – both for how this happened and for lack of reporting about it.

    Obviously there’s going to be many layoffs in a crap economy, but the pain should be shared more widely between more agencies – including the Mayor’s office and appointees and job levels.

    Women of color (and men of color) have already had to fight so long for equal pay and job rights. At the end of the day, was it just politically more expedient for the mayor to craft a deal that lays off women of color more than other workers with more political clout? In all fairness, perhaps officials didn’t realize the extent of this devestatingly focused impact at the time, but now they do. It is amazing that some departments have not really had cuts or even received raises, and the mayor has been growing his staff/appointees despite the economy.

    Final bone to pick: more unemployed people means more folks joining Healthy SF. These layoffs will directly affect Healthy SF because pink slips are going to the front-line workers in our city’s public health system. Anyone who plans on using Healthy SF services should be freaking out (and contacting the Mayor).

    The bottom line is that while city layoffs can’t be avoided in this economy, the currently pending layoffs don’t seem (to me) to be a logical priority for which city services to cut first, and they are unquestionably unfair for which type of workers are are being impacted.

    Why can’t we keep some of our city’s values in place even when dealing with an economic crisis. The Mayor should have the guts to spread the pain around all departments including his own, and not telling women (and men) of color that they – must shoulder the budget sacrifice for everyone else.

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