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Labor Union May Be Able to Set City Manager Paychecks 

Wednesday, Jun 29 2011

In San Francisco, at times, we behave normally in spite of ourselves. For example, here, as in the rest of the world, our elected officials have a hand in determining the salaries and benefits of the unionized city workers who make the city go. But even that might change. Soon it could be the unions who tell our elected officials how much they'll earn and what benefits they'll get. A pending Assembly bill would make that state law.

AB 455, which awaits a state Senate vote, would alter the composition of city and county civil service commissions.

That sounds innocuous. More specifically, unions would directly nominate half the members of the bodies that establish wages, work rules, and benefits; adjudicate workplace disputes; and set minimum qualifications and standards for job examinations. And, yes, the civil service commission sets the salary and benefit levels of San Francisco's mayor, board, and other elected officials.

Not so innocuous.

Civil service commissions appointed by elected officials have created a workplace "slanted in favor of employers," according to Darryl Lucien, a legislative aide for Assemblywoman Nora Campos, the bill's author. Campos' solution is to give direct appointing authority to an area's largest union, which in San Francisco would be the SEIU. In Campos' San Jose–area district, it would be AFSCME — which, incidentally, is the sponsor of this bill.

AB 455 would shake things up statewide, but in San Francisco its impact could be seismic. Here, the civil service commission isn't appointed by supervisors, but by the mayor. AB 455 would strip the mayor of that power, awarding half the appointments to the supes and half to the SEIU.

"Were the Board of Supervisors to appoint members of the Civil Service Commission, all of its direct appointees, it's safe to say, would be pro-union," says Don Casper, a commissioner for 11 years. "The members nominated — that is, appointed — by SEIU would be union advocates." This, according to the bill's creators, would remedy the problem of "slanted" commissions.

A Department of Human Resources memo obtained via public records request urges San Francisco's state legislation committee to lobby against AB 455. DHR claims it violates the "plenary powers" of our charter city and contravenes state constitutional bans on designating "legislative delegation to third parties." As of press time, the committee has taken no action. Six of its seven members represent elected city officials; perhaps they don't wish to make a poor impression.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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