The issue of contracting out city services to private firms has long been the third-rail of San Francisco politics. Even though outsourcing would save taxpayers a lot of money, the city's supervisors almost never approve a department's request to outsource civil service jobs. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, a rare fiscal conservative on the board, says he can remember his colleagues voting to privatize only one job since 2001 (a position in the morgue).
The reason for this is simple: Most supervisors are terrified of crossing the public-employee unions that put them in office.
In some ways, this year seems no different. The progressive supervisors owe their majority on the board to labor. (The San Francisco Labor Council — which includes the city's largest public-employee union, SEIU Local 1021 — spent more than $420,000 in this year's supervisorial races to maintain a union-friendly board, campaign finance records show.) And other supervisors with ambitions for higher office don't want to make labor their enemy. It's a recipe for politics as usual when a board subcommittee considers proposals to contract out more than 500 city jobs today.