SF’s Rigged Budget Process Hurts Nonprofit Workers

by on August 4, 2020

(Editors Note: This piece originally ran on July 24, 2014. It describes the same situation San Francisco nonprofit workers face today: they get no wage increases while city workers are slated to get 3%. In many cases both sets of workers are unionized; the difference is that there is no master contract for nonprofits so the city is not under a legal obligation to provide raises. As I describe below, the problem with underpaying nonprofit workers is structural. SF’s Mayor and Board of Supervisors will hopefully ensure that essential city workers—either paid directly by the city or via a city-funded nonprofit—are treated equitably in the upcoming budget).

As Mayor Lee and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors tout the city’s new 2014-15 budget, its widening of the salary gap between lower paid nonprofit workers and city employees is ignored. To paraphrase Elizabeth Warren, the city’s budget process is rigged against nonprofit workers. The paltry 1.5% increases they are getting during an economic boom—barely half that awarded city workers, and far less than the 2.6% the Supes are getting— proves this beyond a doubt.

The Rigged Process

If city and city funded nonprofit workers’ had their pay raises decided by the Mayor and Board at the same time, they would almost certainly get the same amounts. After all, how could SEIU Local 1021 cut a deal that gave one set of its members one wage increase and another set a much lower increase if the agreements were struck at the same time?  While some city workers such as police, fire, and MUNI drivers have often gotten higher raises than other city workers, the 2.25% that SEIU Local 1021 got for its city workers would certainly have been given to nonprofits if simultaneously negotiated.

But because the budget process is rigged against nonprofit workers in the truest sense of the word—-rigged in the sense of being structurally arranged to achieve an unfair result—pay raises for city and nonprofit workers paid with city funds are not negotiated at the same time. Instead, city workers reach their deals first, outside the process used by the Board of Supervisors budget committee to decide the rest of the city budget.

City workers reach their deal when the city has all of its funds, while nonprofit workers are stuck with what’s left. And if the deal cut with city workers leaves only crumbs for nonprofits, the Supervisors do what they did this year, which is to lowball nonprofit workers.

To those who say, well that’s just pitting one set of workers against another, my response is that is precisely what the Supervisors do every year. I didn’t see any Supervisor mount a public campaign to redirect the mayor’s spending plan so that nonprofit workers to get the same 2.25% as most city workers. John Avalos floated some ideas in the press about how the Board could redirect the mayor’s budget, but neither he nor his colleagues saw equity for nonprofit workers as a priority.

And when we evaluate a politician’s deeming something a “priority,” it requires more than words. No supervisor sought to rally nonprofit workers to get their fair raise. No supervisor tried to forestall the Budget Committee’s reaching a deal the day before a major hearing on the budget. No Supervisor raised a public fuss about nonprofit workers being screwed over until the deal was cut and there was nothing to be done.

I know David Campos was outraged by the Budget Committee deal, and that he and Eric Mar are trying to get nonprofits more money through a future supplemental (which will never happen). But the very fact that these supervisors, and others who we know are committed to nonprofit workers, were apparently powerless to give nonprofit workers higher raises proves that the problem is structural.

It is also a “case closed” on the issue of whether the budget process is rigged against nonprofit workers.

Budget Reform

This deck stacking against nonprofit workers can easily be stopped. All it requires is that the mayor and supervisors negotiate raises for city workers and the cost of doing business (CDB) increase for nonprofits simultaneously. This prevents disbursing all available funds before nonprofit CDB’s are even considered.

Under this approach, all workers paid by city funds would be drawing from the same financial pool instead of city workers getting their deal done and nonprofit workers then having to compete with Vision Zero, tenant legal defense, and other new programs that Supervisors get props for funding.

That city unions have master contracts with the city while nonprofits do not does not limit this solution. The mayor and supervisors’ must still be compelled to reach a deal for both sets of workers at the same time. If city workers are in the middle of a multi-year contracts and will not be negotiating, the city can still reach a deal for nonprofit CDB’s prior to their having to compete with the Supes’ pet addbacks for funds.

The only reason for keeping the current budget process is to save money by lowballing nonprofit workers. San Francisco’s fiscal year 15 budget is balanced on their backs, and reflects the disconnect between our politicians’ stated desire to reduce inequality and their doing exactly the opposite by giving nonprofit workers less.

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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