I caught up with Judie Italiano, general manager of the city of San Diego’s largest employee union, to talk about Mayor Jerry Sanders’ budget proposal for the coming year.

I wanted to get her thoughts on a key premise the mayor is holding onto: That the elimination of hundreds of employees will not necessarily reduce the levels of service the city provides.

Sanders recognizes that measuring service levels is a task the city can’t precisely perform. Still, he maintains that the 671 full-time positions he wants to cut (about 300 of which are presently filled by a living, breathing city worker) does not mean residents will receive a smidgen less than they currently get from city libraries, parks and recreation programs. The mayor said money will be saved by finding ways to streamline operations through a process called “business process reengineering.”

Italiano said she thought the concept was a total fallacy. “How can we have the same city services without having the same number of people to provide them?” she asked. She continued: “I don’t know how we can find any more fat to trim without further impacting services.”

Sanders said the services will be maintained because the layoffs will target supervisors, who make up a large part of the white-collar Municipal Employees Association that Italiano heads, over the non-managerial workers who are actually emptying trash cans and cutting lawns at city parks. Italiano disagrees.

“That’s not true. You’ve got to have a few chiefs to help, especially in [the Park and Recreation Department] and in [the Library Department], where there aren’t enough managers to begin with,” she said.

Further, Italiano said that her union’s contract with the city mandates the mayor’s staff meet with her organization to assess the very question of whether layoffs will mean lower levels of service. Such a meeting would kick off a process that could eventually wind up as a grievance hearing, she said.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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