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Politics

Union: San Diego Poised To Furlough Hundreds Of Workers Deemed 'Non-Essential' To Pandemic Response

San Diego's seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018.
Megan Wood
San Diego's seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018.

Beginning Monday, the city of San Diego intends to furlough hundreds of city employees that it deems non-essential to its response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the union that represents many of the city’s employees.

On Friday, several hundred employees were told that those who were not assisting with the pandemic response would have to stop working and use their accrued leave time, after which they would no longer be paid. The planned action was first reported by Voice of San Diego.

Some city employees have been moved to other posts, including helping with the new homeless shelter at the city’ convention center. But not everyone has found a role.

Among those impacted are employees from the parks department, library system, and the city treasurer’s office.

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“If an employee is not essential or supporting essential functions or able to telework, then they are required to use their accrued leave until it runs out,” said Craig Gustafson, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s spokesman, in a statement to KPBS.

But the Municipal Employees Association, which represents many city workers, says the city doesn’t have the authority to do this under their current contract.

In a grievance filed with the city Saturday afternoon, the union wrote that under state law, the city “may not lawfully use a ‘furlough’ mechanism as a means to reduce its payroll expense in lieu of a layoff.” The city would first have to come to an agreement with the union before taking such an action, the grievance states.

Mike Zucchet, the General Manager of the Municipal Employees Association, told KPBS that city workers “weren’t oblivious” to the tax revenue shortfall impacting the city as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but argued that the city couldn’t take unilateral action to place employees in an unpaid status.

“The union looks forward to bargaining with the city regarding all of the options available to address the city’s situation during this national crisis,” Zucchet told KPBS.

Union: San Diego Poised To Furlough Hundreds Of Workers Deemed 'Non-Essential' To Pandemic Response
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.