With the prospect of layoffs looming in the city of San Diego's workforce, municipal unions are offering concessions.
They're accepting reforms required under Proposition D, hoping that their acceptance will make it easier for voters to swallow the measure's half-cent sales tax increase. Lowering labor costs is a key element of the Yes on D strategy.
The city has just adopted an approach recommended by business leaders to save between $73 million and $85 million a year.
Mayor Jerry Sanders is believed to have "jawboned" the unions along these lines: "It's simply, 'Guys, this is your shot, this is your chance'," suggests Liam Dillon, an online reporter and blogger who covers City Hall for the voiceofsandiego.org.
" 'I'm backing a tax increase'," Dillon postulates as the mayor's likely pitch. " 'You've got to give us something or else this is going to fail. We have to show we're going to do these reforms in a meaningful way or we can't tell the voters we're serious about this stuff.' "
Firefighters are now offering to accept a two-tier pension system. This at a time when their chief is recommending that the mayor "brown out" five more engine companies -- for a total of 13 -- and lay off up to 60 positions (out of a force of 854 firefighters) if no new revenue is raised to close the city's budget deficit.
The stakes are high, and so are emotions.
Prop. D backers accuse the opposition of demagoguing the issue of exorbitant pensions.
"The charter now says that any pension benefits that are increased have to go to a vote of the public," said City Councilwoman Donna Frye in an interview Tuesday. "People don't know that. They are not hearing that. They are hearing a rehashing of what happened 5, 10, 15 years ago."
In other developments on Tuesday, the City Council checked off another fiscal reform under Prop. D when it voted to triple what its members contribute to their pensions, to $6,804 a year. Critics argue, though, that they should pay $13,675 a year in order to share equally in what the city contributes.