Alexis Acquarole, a library assistant, organizes books at the Central Library in downtown San Diego on Dec. 15, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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This week we learned that the city of San Diego has more than 1,900 unfilled positions in its libraries, recreation centers and other city departments. That’s the equivalent of nearly 16 percent of city positions with standard hours, reports Lisa Halverstadt. 

And while city officials have made progress toward making jobs more competitive, the pandemic and longstanding challenges have further complicated its hiring push

Like most employers wrestling with hiring woes during the pandemic, compensation, cost-of-living and the time it takes to hire have all played a role. San Diego library assistants, for example, ranked eleventh out of 11 other jurisdictions used as benchmarks in a salary study last year. Their total compensation was nearly 22 percent below the median. 

Grounds maintenance workers — who recently received a 5 percent pay bump — now make between $37,000 and $44,000. That’s roughly the amount that a single person needs to make to survive in our region without public assistance, according to the University of Washington’s Center for Women’s Welfare. 

If city staffing troubles sound familiar, that’s because Halverstadt began reporting on the issue last year when she learned the city’s parks and recreation department was grappling with significant vacancies that impacted the city’s pools, recreation centers and parks

Michael Zucchet, general manager of the Municipal Employees Association, told her the city’s own compensation survey acknowledges these drawbacks. 

“The only way this changes is to fundamentally make these jobs competitive and to effectively recruit, and in broad terms right now, neither one of those is happening at the city,” Zucchet said. 

Read more about the city’s staffing challenges here, and share your thoughts with us, or how you’ve been impacted, in the comment section below. 

Related: While the city struggles to fill jobs, the Union-Tribune reports that San Diego’s unemployment rate hit its lowest rate of the pandemic at the end of 2020. Biotech, architecture and engineering industries saw the biggest gains. 

What We’re Working On

  • Our team is preparing a new strategic plan to map out our priorities for the next 3-5 years, and we want your input. What communities or issues should we cover more closely? If you had full control of VOSD, what changes would you make? Let us know using this short survey
  • In the aftermath of the killings of two Tijuana journalists in a month, advocates are scrutinizing the system meant to help them: protection programs. Sandra Dibble spoke to advocates who are speaking out about changes needed to make them meaningful. 
  • A feud is heating up between San Diego State University and the region’s labor movement over the deal they had hammered out for SDSU Mission Valley. At the press conference Wednesday, labor leaders and workers outlined their sense of betrayal, calling on SDSU to put its past commitments in writing. 

Read These Comments 

About shelters halting intakes after a spike in coronavirus cases …  

“San Diego doesn’t have enough shelter beds when all the shelters are open. The impact of this has been huge. Two years into a pandemic and the city still doesn’t know what to do? Todd Gloria and his administration make policies to get votes from housed people. There are hundreds of senior citizens downtown with significant health issues who will die on the streets during these closures. It’s devastating for people experiencing homelessness and those who are working with them.” – Commentingonit 

About city staffing shortages … 

“Thank you for exposing this known fact in public employee circles. Professional classes of workers train at the city, then move to other jurisdictions that have better pay and benefits. Other challenges for the city in particular is the cost of parking downtown if you need to drive for childcare emergencies, and the poor working conditions in old buildings … It’s the pay, for sure…but the little things quickly add up as well.” – Jcct

Megan Wood

Megan is Voice of San Diego’s engagement editor. She is responsible for producing and overseeing content that extends the reach of the organization....

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