Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 | The San Diego City Council kick-started the payroll-trimming ballot propositions that voters overwhelmingly approved a month ago Tuesday when it sided with Mayor Jerry Sanders on the laws’ final details.
After four hours of open meetings and closed-door discussions, the council approved by a unanimous vote the legal changes the Mayor’s Office negotiated over Propositions B and C with the city’s employee unions. Some council members said they did so reluctantly.
“My feeling is that the vote is clear and that the mayor’s strategy of dealing with these issues, even though I don’t necessarily agree, is right,” said Councilman Tony Young, who opposed the mayor’s initiatives during the fall campaign.
Tuesday’s hearing served as the last chance for the council, which was divided over Sanders’ proposals, to alter the two new workforce-shaping laws before they become part of regular city business. The vote finalizes the particulars of the changes to city law that are needed to enact the City Charter provisions that the voters passed in the Nov. 7 contest.
Sanders billed the Propositions B and C as “reform tools” that would allow him to better manage the cash-depleted government by curbing the city’s payroll expenses, which include $1.4 billion deficits for both employee pension and retiree healthcare costs.
In that election, San Diego voters approved Proposition B, which requires voters’ approval for new pension benefits for city workers by a margin of 70 percent to 30 percent. Proposition C, which allows private companies to compete with municipal employees for city work, passed 60 percent to 40 percent.
Four council members opposed Proposition C – Young, Toni Atkins, Donna Frye and Ben Hueso – in the election. Proposition B did not garner an organized opposition during the campaign.
Employee unions criticized the mayor’s measures during the campaign this fall as being vague, saying they preferred that the particulars approved Tuesday would have been made public before voters turned out to decide on the initiatives a month ago.
They said that the election could have seen a different result if voters knew that the city would reject some of its requests, such as requiring companies that win outsourced work under Proposition C to provide workers with health care.
“The will of the voters was based on efficiency, not on the exploitation of the workforce,” said Joan Raymond, president of the union representing the city’s blue-collar workers.
The unions were seeking a number of safeguards that Sanders was not willing to grant. The most prominent disagreement focused on the city employees’ request to force companies to pay its workers as low as 85 percent of the salaries of the municipal employees that would be replaced.
Opponents of Proposition C predict the initiative will only save money for the city by farming out jobs with lesser pay and no healthcare benefits. Such a move will only exacerbate the number of uninsured residents in the area, they said, pointing to a study that shows that 463,415 – or 15 percent – of the county’s residents aren’t covered by health insurance.
“How can we ask people to sacrifice their well-being for the well-being of the bottom line,” asked Patricia Andrews-Callori, president of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice.
The mayor balked at the benefit requirement and instead agreed to require contractors to adhere to the city’s “living wage” ordinance, which requires the businesses to pay its workers $10 per hour plus health benefits, or $12 an hour without.
Forcing a comparable wage on the competing businesses was not “the purpose of city government” and would “effectively neuter the purpose of the charter amendment,” Sanders said. The unions’ argument over that matter showed their “intent on scuttling the will of the voters,” he said.
Unions and other skeptics criticized the mayor for pushing the council vote after declaring that talks with the employee groups broke down as late as Friday, saying that there was not enough time for the council or the public to review the work that took place largely behind closed doors since July.
Sanders said that no amount of time would bring his office and the unions closer to the agreement. Because of the confidential nature of the labor negotiations, the council retreated to closed session twice to talk about the matters during the hearing.
The enacting legislation will require the city to shoulder the costs for holding public elections over pension, and special elections will not be held for the sole purpose of voting on pension enhancements.
Minimum qualifications for competing companies and the appointment process for the panel of citizens and employees who select the businesses were also laid out under the legislation. The mayor and council will appoint members to the board, and those individuals are prohibited from having a financial interest in any of the competing companies.
Services subject to competition will be selected by the mayor, but they will not be bid on until the city department is allowed to streamline its operations to become more efficient.
The mayor’s supporters urged the council to “obey the will of the voters,” saying that postponing the laws’ passage or tweaking it to include the requirement sought by the unions would obstruct the message of the election.
“There is no room for change. That’s how it works. The people have spoken,” said Carl DeMaio, president of the tax-averse Performance Institute and a financial backer of Propositions B and C.
No changes were made to Sanders’ proposals, but Frye asked the city attorney to prepare a proposal that would force contracting companies to adhere to the state Public Records Act so that taxpayers could have access to information about their city services.
Besides stricter wage requirements, the unions unsuccessfully sought the ability to require that any outsourced work be performed only by local companies, and also to bypass the voters and allow the City Council to reinstate any benefits that are lost as a result of City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s ongoing legal challenge. Aguirre’s lawsuit, which seeks to set aside $900 million worth of pension benefits, is currently in the opening phase of a trial.
The unions also wanted to allow the City Council to be able to grant retiree healthcare benefits without a vote, but the mayor rejected that notion. They also did not receive from the mayor the provision for severance packages for employees that they sought.