Labor Unions Protest City Fat Cats' Raises, Democracy

Categories: Government, Labor
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He's getting a raise, too. You voted for it.
At a time when thieves are tearing apart the infrastructure of our city for a few dollars worth of copper, it warrants mentioning that the glistening dome of San Francisco's City Hall is, literally, slathered in gold.

Perhaps those who'd like to even the score should aim a little higher. That's the tack the SEIU is taking. The city's largest union is announcing a rally in the shadow of that golden dome to be held at 4 p.m. today and is predicting an attendance of "thousands."

"Thousands" is the subject du jour, as in the thousands of extra dollars coming toward the city's highest-paid officials in forthcoming raises. While the city faces a hefty deficit and SEIU workers are being ushered into lucrative second careers in unemployment, the city's $200,000-a-year pencil-pushers are getting even more gruel.

Well, that's an outrage! Gimme a bullhorn! Who's to blame for this? Oh, right. I am. You are, too. 

The salary bumps coming for Mayor Ed Lee, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, District Attorney George Gascón and other well-compensated elected officials are determined by a voter-mandated formula. Yes, the city is taking it on the chin. But even if a fissure opened up beneath City Hall and was stopped up only with wads of cash, these raises would still take effect.

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Charlie Powell
The house always wins
Blame yourself. You voted for it. Measure C passed in 2006 with 63 percent of the vote. What's more, it was backed by 10 members of the Board of Supervisors. John Avalos, David Chiu, Eric Mar, David Campos, Jane Kim, and Christina Olague are all slated to appear at today's rally to wave the bloody shirt. Good for them. They didn't put this measure on the ballot. But all of their progressive forbears did. In fact, the only supervisor who weighed in against it was Sean Elsbernd. You're as likely to find him being lionized at today's labor rally as you are to run into Rick Santorum at Q Bar.

What's more, tinkering with public officials' salaries works both ways. You may recall back in 2010, top dogs' salaries were cut due to a separate voter-approved measure which triggered pay reductions when city unions agreed to labor concessions. Herrera, for example, was dinged $5,177 back then -- so he isn't quite back to the break-even point, even with the $3,729 raise he's got in the pipeline.

The ultimate point is, determining city officials' salaries is complicated. Labor leaders are right to point out the dissonance of a reeling city rewarding its richest while the frontline employees who literally make San Francisco work are in jeopardy of being cut loose. But these raises weren't determined by some evil wizard and his cadre of 1-percenters and Wall Streeters who can be neatly demonized; they were pushed by labor's preferred politicians and ratified by the voters.

Pushing simple solutions to complex problems is an indicator of either crass stupidity or an appeal to the public's baser instincts. Either way, it doesn't help.

Let's hope this city and its unions can strike a balance that preserves the jobs and dignity of the workers who make San Francisco go. In the meantime, it warrants mentioning that it's a very fine line between populism and demagoguery.

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