Workers rally against Newsom's layoff scheme

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SEIU workers rally at San Francisco General Hospital.
Jobert Poblete

By Jobert Poblete

Dozens of workers at San Francisco General Hospital rallied March 25 to protest layoffs there and throughout the city as ordered by Mayor Gavin Newsom. More than 17,000 city workers received layoff notices in the last few weeks, including hundreds at the hospital. The protest was organized by SEIU Local 1021, which represents around 12,000 city employees, 9,000 of whom have received pink slips. 

Many of these workers are expected to be re-hired as part-time employees, working 37.5 hours a week or less. The move is expected to shave $50 million from a more than $500 million budget deficit. The Mayor’s Office is calling this a “reorganization” that will minimize the impact on services and maintain employment. But the plan, which was proposed by Newsom last month without first consulting with the city’s unions, has met fierce resistance from employees and their labor representatives and is now the subject of negotiations between the mayor and 41 city employee unions.

SEIU acknowledged the city's fiscal troubles but is upset about what it calls a unilateral change in its members' wages and benefits. “Essentially what they're doing is unilaterally cutting wages and benefits without negotiating it,” SEIU organizer Gabriel Haaland told us. “It's not a question of whether we're willing to sacrifice, but that choice has been taken away.”

Hospital workers, carrying signs that read “Patient Care is Not Part Time,” also raised concerns about the layoff-rehire scheme's potential effects on the quality of services at the hospital. “It can't work in the emergency room and it can't work in the rest of the hospital,” said Ed Kinchley, a social worker who works in the hospital's emergency room.

Shari Zinn, an X-ray technician in the hospital, said her department already runs below minimum staffing levels, forcing patients to wait two to four hours for X-rays. Since X-ray technicians are hard to retain, she is not being laid off, but clerks and aids in her department are. “If there isn't a clerk or aid,” Zinn said, “then an X-ray tech has to stop what they're doing. Fewer patients can be served.”

Hospital officials would not comment on the layoffs.

At the rally, speakers called on the city to come up with revenue measures and other ways to balance the budget. “The city has really pushed us too far,” Sin Yee Poon, SEIU's chief elected officer, told the assembled workers. “They're balancing they're budget on us, just us.”