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.”
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.”
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.”