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San Francisco unions protest billions paid to contractors

The unions representing San Francisco’s city workers rallied Tuesday to cry foul over the billions of dollars the city spends on outside contractors each year. They say some contractors charge up to $300 an hour for workers, sometimes more than doubling the cost of hiring someone in-house, and that the city would be better off hiring more employees to alleviate its yearslong staffing crisis.

“Why not give that work to us and save the taxpayer?” San Francisco Department of Public Works Junior Engineer Jon Gausman said. “We’re not even staffed up. We could be bringing more people in.”

Pushing San Francisco away from its longtime reliance on outside contractors has become a focal point for the coalition of 12 unions, representing over 25,000 city workers, that are in the midst of a contentious contract negotiation with city leaders. The specter of a widespread strike has hung over the city since the unions launched their contract fight last month and may become a central sticking point in Mayor London Breed’s bid to win reelection in November. 

A June 2023 civil grand jury report found that the number of vacancies in the city more than doubled since the Covid pandemic began, causing Muni to run fewer buses, reducing the level of care in local hospitals and jacking up answering times in the 911 call center. City worker unions proposed in their bargaining with the city that San Francisco achieve full staffing in key services by 2025, improve hiring processes based on the grand jury report and balance the upcoming budget by reducing contracting, not cutting vacant positions, according to coalition spokesperson Luke Thibault.

There are currently 3,200 vacant full-time jobs in San Francisco, according to Department of Human Resources spokesperson Jack Hebb. That total represents a lessening of the vacancy crisis, according to Hebb, who said the city’s vacancy rate declined by nearly 30% from January 2023 to January 2024. The city has hired 700 full-time equivalent employees in the past year, bringing its total to 35,200, the highest it’s ever been, Hebb added.

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