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General Manager’s Report, First Quarter of 2010

City employees have had a tumultuous five years, and 2009 was obviously no different.  The City of San Diego continues to find itself in the throes of chronic budget deficits, service cuts, wage cuts, layoffs and other challenges, all of which are exacerbated by the dishonest (and often times malicious) rhetoric that spews from some politicians, media outlets, and members of the public.  About the only positive in these “interesting times” is that there is some rational hope that the City is near the bottom of its fiscal instability.

Looking ahead to 2010, I think employees can continue to expect rough seas however.  On the one hand, MEA-represented employees are very fortunate to not be at the bargaining table during these difficult times, thanks to last year’s successful negotiation of a two-year MOU. On the other hand, the City continues to balance its structurally underfunded budget by cutting essential employees and City services.

Perhaps someday City officials might actually consider making the citizens of San Diego simply pay their fair share for the services they receive, much like every other municipality in California. But given that 2010 is another election year, that type of common sense approach to the budget shortfalls might once again be too much to expect.

Instead, we continue to be bombarded by elected officials succumbing to the politics of the day by announcing their passionate intention to “reform” (read: take away) our pension and health benefits, even though it is the City’s failure to fund promised benefits over the last several decades that has created the problem—not the benefits themselves.

Retiree healthcare will continue to be target number one for many City leaders. DROP is always an old favorite for some, while managed competition is the new kid on the block. Suffice to say you will be hearing a lot more about these issues in the coming months, but in any and all cases know that MEA and our legal counsel will continue to fight to protect what has already been contractually promised to you.

On a happier and more optimistic note, let me say how honored I am to be at MEA and how thankful I am for your support in moving the organization forward.  MEA is already a strong union with a lot of positives going for it, as well as several areas of untapped potential, all of which makes me excited and extremely hopeful about the future of your union.

Working with your elected union leadership, we have spent the last several months trimming staff and other expenses at MEA in order to reduce your dues by more than 10%. We have also made the organization more transparent in every way, and refocused union expenditures back into areas that protect your rights, enhance your ability to do your job well and to be properly compensated.  These are the core missions of your union, and our budget expenditures and staff assignments now reflect that.

With respect to member communications, hopefully you have already seen a difference in the past few months.  Communication is a two way street, as they say, and we need to be more communicative with our members and vice versa.  We have a new electronic communication system that alerts you in a timely way to important news and announcements.  We have an updated and improved website that continues to undergo substantial changes that will be unveiled in the next few months.  We are getting back to worksite visits, such as our recent decision to personally hand out copies of our new MOUs to each of your worksites rather than simply dropping them in the mail.  And our new and improved Viewpoint publication represents another aspect of our renewed focus on informing and seeking input from our membership in a more professional and comprehensive way.

As we look to the future, I think you will also be pleased to see additional improvements in the way we conduct ourselves on your behalf.  We will spend more time educating city leaders about the issues that affect your job and will advocate more effectively on your behalf at City Hall.  In addition, we will have a significantly larger presence when it comes to political action, both in terms of candidate races in the City of San Diego as well as City ballot propositions and initiatives put before the voters.  From my perspective, MEA’s lack of presence in these areas represents its biggest fields of “untapped potential” that I referred to earlier.

Thankfully, there is a lot at our union that is already very solid and only needs to be protected.  Your reorganized and refocused MEA staff members are extremely competent and have a long and successful track record representing you both at the bargaining table and in grievances and disciplines.  Your legal counsel, Ann Smith, is recognized as the best labor lawyer in the State of California, and her record on your behalf both at the negotiating table and in the court room demonstrates that label as something of an understatement.  Your union finances are also very strong, with substantial reserves saved for legal and political battles in the future.

Despite the bleak fiscal times we live in at the City of San Diego, I sincerely believe that MEA’s brightest days are ahead.  I am honored to be a part of this transition, and I welcome your support, feedback, constructive criticism, and partnership in that effort in the coming months and years.  Thank you and please stay strong!