A hiring freeze is now in effect throughout San Diego's municipal government.
And the city's labor unions are warning that service levels will suffer unless agreement on a new, interim retirement plan is quickly reached with management.
The city’s workforce already is rife with vacancies, especially in parks, recreation and libraries.
With the Fire-Rescue Dept. ranks at a low ebb – down from 940 allotted positions to around 800 -- firefighters are on mandatory overtime, as are public safety dispatchers.
The situation has prompted the city's biggest labor union to file court papers asking a judge to intervene.
"It's not our fault,” says Cathleen Higgins, on behalf of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association (SDMEA). "We don't have the people.”
All this stems from the voters' passage and the state's recent certification of Proposition B, the pension reform measure that puts all future city employees except police officers in 401(k)-style retirement plans.
Those plans can't just be imposed on future hires for jobs represented by labor unions – whose members comprise the vast majority of the city’s labor force.
They have to be crafted by way of a state-mandated "meet and confer" bargaining process.
With Prop. B tied up in legal challenges, the city attorney’s office advises against bringing on new employees for unionized positions until an interim bargaining process plays out – while future hires for non-union jobs, a small fraction of the workforce, will be covered by an interim plan recently approved by the City Council.
But unless such an agreement is reached by October, services such as parks and recreation and libraries won't get the new staffing they've been budgeted for.
“So on one hand, we get this great new budget and service restorations,” Higgins said in an interview Wednesday. “ And then that all goes away."
In addition, absent an interim retirement plan, a fire academy class will have to be cancelled.
"I hope that everyone understands that having a hiring freeze at this point in time is not good for our ability to serve and protect,." Says Frank De Clercq, president of San Diego Firefighters Local 145
Higgins says the city of played needless 'hardball' by instituting the hiring freeze: “We've always been cooperative, but it's a bit insulting, to say the least, that at this point it's come to this."
Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, points out that management at least, has put an interim pension plan offer on the table.
"The unions, within the week, gave us a counter-proposal,” Goldstone said Thursday. “So the mere fact that they were willing to put some thought into it and come back to us gives me some hope.”
The rank-and-file aren't quite that optimistic, according to De Clercq: "With these judges and all these lawyers, I just see -- probably, unfortunately, a long process."
Goldstone’s take: “We're ready, willing and able to at least come to an interim solution and work out some of the details on a long-term solution, so long as labor is."
Meantime, on Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Luis Vargas took no action on a request by SDMEA’s attorneys to reverse his denial of an injunction against Prop. B, pending final legal outcomes.
But he directed the city’s negotiators and union leaders to go back to the bargaining table.
Another session is set for Friday.