Soundings

Flagg Taylor
Lost in the Past
Spring 1998

While other big-city mayors make striking reforms, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown tenaciously holds onto the past, propping up a bloated city government and handing out favors to municipal unions. An expanding public sector means more union members, after all, and so more Brown voters.

When the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents many city workers, failed to unionize the Visiting Nurse Hospice, a nonprofit city contractor, the SEIU turned to Mayor Brown. The mayor didn't disappoint: he canceled the hospice's contracts—worth over $900,000— and proposed a new city-run home health care agency to offer the same services. Under pressure from the mayor and the union, and despite warnings the city would have to pay as much as 50 percent more for home health care, in early February San Francisco's Board of Supervisors agreed to Brown's proposal.

City workers don't come cheap in San Francisco. Brown has renegotiated almost every city contract, hiking city worker salaries 12.9 percent, while adding almost 1,300 permanent jobs to the city's payroll. The biggest beneficiary of Brown's largesse: the SEIU, whose workers will get an extra $106.2 million over the next three years in their new contract, and who now earn up to 50 percent more than government workers in other California cities. The new contract also blocks the city from contracting out for various services, so privatization will be more difficult, even when Brown goes.

Expanding bureaucracy and letting unions dictate policy to city hall? Maybe somebody better tell Mayor Brown what decade this is.

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