Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


San Diego Enters Talks With Union Over Furlough Dispute

Caution tape surrounds a city park that was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, April 6, 2020.
Andi Dukleth
Caution tape surrounds a city park that was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, April 6, 2020.

San Diego city officials were scheduled to enter talks with a union of city workers Monday evening to resolve a dispute over furloughs prompted by the coronavirus pandemic — a potential prelude to even greater labor tensions in the coming weeks and months.

The pandemic has shuttered city libraries and a host of jobs have been deemed nonessential to the city's emergency response. Hundreds of city workers across multiple departments were told last Friday that they must start using accrued leave time or forgo pay.

The policy was outlined in a document distributed to city workers as well as in direct communications to individual employees from their supervisors.

San Diego Unified Begins ‘Soft Launch’ Of Distance Learning
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

Craig Gustafson, a spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said roughly 800 employees, or 6.8% of the city's workforce, worked out of facilities that had been ordered closed under state and county directives. He said those employees had already received three weeks of paid leave from the city, and that some would qualify for additional family or medical leave policies expanded by Congress.

VIDEO: San Diego Enters Talks With Union Over Furlough Dispute

"The city is feeling the impacts of this disease just like every other family and business, and we will continue to do everything we can to lessen the effects on our employees during this unparalleled time," Gustafson said in an email. "We thank our city employees for their continued hard work and sacrifice, and look forward to the time when the state stay-at-home order can be lifted."

Faulconer last week issued an executive order declaring the city's more than 11,000 employees "disaster workers," allowing them to be used in the city's response to the pandemic regardless of their classification.

RELATED: San Diego Poised To Furlough Hundreds Of Workers Deemed ‘Non-Essential’ To Pandemic Response

But hundreds of workers have not been given alternate assignments, and many have jobs that either have been rendered irrelevant during the pandemic or cannot be done from home. Others cannot leave their homes because their age or health status puts them at a high risk of complications should they be infected with the coronavirus.


The Municipal Employees Association, which represents white collar city workers, filed a grievance on Saturday arguing the furloughs violated both state law and the union's contract with the city. The MEA and city officials were scheduled to talk through the dispute via conference call on Monday at 4 p.m.

The furlough dispute is likely a preview of bigger fights between the city and its employee unions, with contracts that cover police officers, firefighters, deputy city attorneys and a host of other city workers all set to expire on June 30.

City and union leaders have been negotiating successor contracts for months, and the City Council was ready to vote on their approval as recently as March. But the pandemic has wreaked havoc on city finances, with sales tax and hotel tax revenues reduced to a trickle, meaning whatever deal was reached prior to the pandemic is likely out the window.

The council and other city officials are scheduled to enter another round of closed door bargaining with employee unions on Tuesday. At the same time, city finance officials are putting together a proposed budget due to be presented to the City Council next week.