Union employees protesting outside City Hall. Photo by Will Jarrett.

Hundreds of city employees marched from City Hall down Market Street today, demanding that city departments increase staffing and fill vacant positions.

The march was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, which represents around 60,000 workers in Northern California. SEIU president Joseph Bryant spoke to the crowd from the back of a rented truck before the march began.

“Why are we talking about staffing up?” asked Bryant. “There are over 3,800 vacancies in the city and county of San Francisco. Over 10 percent of the workforce is currently vacant.”

Bryant noted that in some departments, vacancies are even higher. Public Works, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, and the Mayor’s Office of Economics and Workforce Development each have job vacancy rates of more than 20 percent.

“That would be the equivalent of the Warriors playing on the court against the Lakers, or somebody else, with four people on court,” said Bryant. “We are running short-handed, and we need the city to step up.”

A host of other unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Laborers, and the Teamsters, participated as well.

The march followed a Board of Supervisors meeting this afternoon in which longstanding staffing shortages at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital were discussed. The Department of Public Health’s official vacancy rate is 8.2 percent, which is fairly low compared to other departments. But the SEIU contends that this is because not enough staff are budgeted in the first place, and departments such as the intensive care unit routinely exceed their capacity.

“We are not adequately staffed in the emergency department,” said Dr. Susan Ehrlich, CEO of ZSFGH, during the board meeting. She said that training new nurses became very difficult during the pandemic, but that training is ramping up again and that they have been trying to hire experienced nurses.

Another issue flagged by the union, and acknowledged by the hospital administration, was an over-reliance on temporary nurses. According to the union, temporary staff do roughly 40 percent of Public Health’s nursing work.

“Our goal is always hiring permanent nurses,” said Ehrlich. She said that the pipeline to go from a temporary to full-time position is being improved, and that the administration is “happy to work with the unions to make those efforts more robust.”

Photo by Yujie Zhou.
Photo by Will Jarrett

Megan Green, a nurse in the oncology department at ZSFGH since 2013, attended the march. She said that nurses had been hired during the pandemic, but left due to burnout or finding better offers elsewhere.

“My friend went to Santa Cruz and got a $5,000 sign-on bonus, Stanford is offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus,” said Green. “My friend left because she hadn’t been able to use any of her paid time off or her other benefits.”

Green called the idea that there were too few nurses available to hire a “gaslighting attempt from the administration.”

“There are plenty of nurses available to hire,” she said. “I hear people saying all the time, ‘I applied to the General and I’m just waiting to hear back.’”

Daniel Feerick, a laborer in Public Works’ Street and Environmental Services department who has worked for the city for 22 years, was marching as well. He said that he is offered overtime “almost every week” because of the department’s lack of staff.

“I’m not going to turn down overtime,” said Feerick. “But if you think of hiring more people, you wouldn’t have to ask me that.”

As well as the department not hiring enough workers, Feerick continued, those who are hired often have limited experience.

“You can find them down the union hall, if you want people with actual construction experience,” he said. “They’re hiring folks who haven’t been through apprentice programs.”

As the march came to an end, the crowd returned to Civic Center Plaza and climbed up the steps of City Hall. “Can’t take it no more,” they chanted, waving banners and pressing against the building. “Can’t take it no more.”

Photo by Will Jarrett.

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. I am a City manager. Despite our relentless efforts, it routinely takes us 11 – 12 months to hire staff to replace a vacant position. The City’s Department of Human Resources has a relentless bureaucratic process that treats the effort to hire to fill a position vacated by a promoted or retired employee as a brand new effort. The hiring process often changes so just as we learn one process to hire, we are told that there is another bureaucratic hurdle. The hiring process, unfortunately, requires countless approvals by City staff outside my department, examinations that do not do enough to vet a candidate’s qualifications for the actual job that is being filled, and far too much back and forth between DHR, the relevant union, the Mayor’s budget staff and my department. This process appears to be overkill for a manager who is simply trying to fill a long-budgeted position vacated by a retired or promoted employee. The result: when we finally get a hiring list for ab open position, most of the folks on the list have gotten jobs elsewhere. We hired recently and there were only two candidates from the hiring list who were left to interview for our open position. The others on the list found jobs by the time we finally received the approval to interview.
    Between the pandemic, the high cost of Bay Area living, and the fact that many younger employees seek 100% remote positions (which the City does not allow), the situation will continue to worsen at a time that a large percentage of City staff are eligible to retire. I know that the City has a lot of employees but as our Department of Public Health colleagues commented earlier in this thread, there is a dangerous lack of employees at DPH.

  2. As an employee at SF General Hospital, I can assure you that there is a staffing shortage. In my department, it takes at least 8!! months to hire someone. We have been asking HR to fill vacant permanent and as-needed positions but silence is all we get. Because we have no one to go to when employees call out sick, we have both very high overtime expenditures and many times, very short staffed. Logic and anyone in the SF government with common sense would know that it is cheaper to hire somoeone than to pay alllll this overtime out. It just boggles the mind.

  3. I talk to people in other cities and their work load is nothing like our workload… I take pride in the work I do that supports my community but these comments makes me question why I want to serve people who have absolutely no respect for the work we do. Maybe it’s time to go to the private industry like the 20 plus of my colleagues who have left in the last two years… They all get more money , more work life balance, and do less work in their private sector job.

  4. I’d love to see these people who say there’s enough workers , work in a department for six and a half years doing the job of two to four people. Our bodies are breaking down and our mental health is severed. I can guarantee these people who are saying there are enough workers are the first to complain about it the long turn around or wait time.

    1. Employees in other cities that make due with 1/3 or even 1/5 the number of workers per capita (see my other post) must be literal zombies chained to their desks then.

    2. Surely your union protects you from such horrendous exploitation? The overtime pay alone must make conditions even worst.

      Sorry, not sorry.

      1. San Francisco also administers roles of both City government and County government. My office had 23 staff when I started, all of them capable, efficient, and busy, and now we are down to 6 exhausted people.

  5. SF City and County loves to hire upper management and administration positions – my Department alone has created many new admin positions in the past 10 years – but they leave frontline staff positions vacant, or turn them into admin positions.

    1. Exactly

      MEA (municipal executive association) explosion and these are lifetime 100 K -300 K jobs with absolute job security

  6. They have got to be kidding. It’s a well established fact that SF city government payroll is bloated. For example instead of cleaning the streets, DPW actively encourages residents to do it themselves. Urban Alchemy is hired to clean streets, maintain safe walking “corridors” and provide services to the homeless in the Tenderloin although we have DPW, SFPD and the Dept of Public Health and a Department for Homeless Services. And the new homeless intervention site on Market Street achieved one thing: several hundred employees hired to staff it.

  7. Per the State Controller, SF had 39,199 city employees for 875,010 residents in 2020. LA had 61,644 employees for 3,923,341 residents. This works out to 4.5 city employees per 1,000 residents for SF, and 1.6 for LA. The ratio is .9 for San Diego, .8 for San Jose, and 1.3 for Oakland.

    1. Here’s and old joke. A delegation is given a tour at a factory. Asks one visitors: “How many people are working here?” Who’s given the answer: “About half”

  8. Zuckerberg General Hospital has been short staffed nurses for decades. It has a long history of a six month hiring bureaucracy for a single permanent nurse. As the pandemic was ravaging NYC two years ago it had zero plans of safely staffing the hospital and was shamefully called to task publicly by the BOS. Routinely, on a single unit in the hospital, over a three month period, there were hundreds of requests (multiple requests nearly every day) for nurses to work at a higher pay rate due to dangerous shortages. It routinely staffs with traveler nurses at nearly double the cost daily to them and their agencies. The management never had, in the thirty five years I worked there, an active, good faith goal to recruit and retain permanent nurses. My hunch is that saving on the cost of nurses is compared to the cost of lawsuits/out of court settlements for negative outcomes to its patients and surviving families and it’s cheaper to pay settlements. Morale is low. Many nurses who want to serve the community leave, burned out, for higher paying, less stressful, jobs in the area. The management must be held responsible for this continuing fiasco! They only seem to care about their own personal prestige.

  9. The fact is they are asking the workers to do the work of 2 or 3. What don’t you understand?

  10. are they kidding???
    just because there are vacancies that doesn’t mean we need the positions filled.
    the current number of SF workers is still way too high. what we need is EFFICIENCY!
    SF has more gov employees than many countries with a bigger population.
    another expression of the bloated public sector of SF is the budget which is bigger than that of 150 countries (out of 228).

  11. Say what? As of 2020, the “city family” has swelled to a record 37,000 heads – up from 30,000 in 2017 and 27,600 in 2006. (Data available in SFDHR’s annual reports). That’s a 34% increase from 2006 when the city did just fine. Color me dumbfounded (not).

    1. Perhaps you weren’t here, but the City was not doing fine in 2006. Streets were just as dirty or more (which led to the brilliant idea to remove garbage cans). Also there was not a panemic..”Just in time” staffing a supplying hospitals may work in “normal” times but you may have noticed it doesnt work in a pandemic

      1. For argument’s sake, let’s say things weren’t looking that pretty in 2006. The question remains: Where did the 10,000 additional heads go, and what are these people doing? I’m not seeing it, neither do you.