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As president of San Diego’s blue collar city workers union, I think it’s helpful to learn about the 2,000 workers who loyally provide essential services in the face of budget cuts and character attacks. AFSCME Local 127 members keep our police and fire vehicles running, collect/recycle our trash, deliver clean drinking water, maintain our parks and beaches, operate heavy machinery, fix the streets and sewers, and perform other needed services everyday and in emergencies.
So here is my Top 10 reasons why you can’t blame blue collar city workers for San Diego’s problems:
1. Blue collar workers took a 1.9 percentpay cut in our last contract and leveraged that money to reduce the pension liability. Guess what? The liability just shrank $400 million thanks in part to our pay concession.
2. Workers have always paid our share into the pension fund. Don’t blame us for city officials’ decisions to divert pension fund money to pay for sports stadiums (Petco and Qualcomm), the convention center, a Super Bowl and political convention.
3. From 1996-2006, San Diego’s pension fund posted a 10.29 percent return on its investments — ranking it in the top 4 percent of all U.S. pension funds. If the city put its share into the pension fund instead of fleecing taxpayers on pet projects, we’d have a surplus, not a crisis.
4. City workers do not receive social security benefits. This saves the city from paying 6.5 percent of salaries into social security. Most public employees in California, except for teachers and public safety workers, do receive social security.
5. The average pension for blue collar workers retiring after 30 years, at age 62 is $2,773 per month. Our average pay is $20.13 an hour. In a city with some of the highest housing and energy costs in the nation, this is hardly a “Cadillac” benefit. More like a used Chevy.
6. Experienced city workers saved taxpayers $100 million in waste water charges since 1998. Our participation in the nationally recognized Bid to Goal program led to these reductions in costs.
7. San Diego has the lowest tax revenues per capita than any large California city. Although stressed by budget constraints, experienced and dedicated city workers provide more services with fewer resources than their California counterparts. We’re the only city that does not charge for residential trash collection.
8. Outsourcing blue collar jobs could cost taxpayers more. City Hall sweetheart deals could replace experienced city workers with shady operators, poor quality work, cheap labor, lo-ball bids and unmonitored contracts. Without its own workforce, the city loses control over its services and responsibility to protect the public good.
9. We are part of the solution. Our goal is to improve efficiency, provide better service and help solve San Diego’s financial problems.
10. We have award-winning programs and high customer satisfaction ratings in many areas, including trash collection, recycling, parks and beaches.
We care about San Diego. We are your neighbors. We contribute to the community and the economy. And there aren’t very many of us. San Diego has fewer city employees per square mile compared to the other large California cities. While the top bureaucracy has mushroomed and the city has grown by leaps and bounds, the number of blue collar workers has been kept to the minimum for decades.