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President’s Message, Second Quarter of 2011

Although the Wisconsin effort led by our union brethren did not end as we all had hoped, State Senator Spencer Coggs reminded me about the power of organizing and fighting for a worthy cause when, after having returned to Wisconsin, he said, “We gave them hope. But they gave us inspiration.”

Another quote that has stuck with me is from mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel of Chicago who once remarked “Never allow a crisis to go to waste.” I think it’s fair to say that certain politicians (I can think of one in particular here in San Diego) have taken advantage of the current economic climate in order to advance a very deliberate agenda. By emphasizing budget shortfalls and unfunded liabilities, they have characterized public sector unions as the real hindrance to financial stability. These opportunistic politicians have gone as far as casting government workers as overcompensated leeches who are draining the pockets of hardworking taxpayers.

Yet we know the truth… You are the librarian, the 911 dispatcher, the youth recreation leader, the water quality specialist who has selflessly dedicated your life to public service. The city’s very infrastructure was built upon your passion and commitment to work for, and on behalf of, your fellow San Diegans.

We also know that the City of San Diego does the most with one of the leanest per capita budgets in the state. If San Diego were to simply increase fees and taxes to the same rate as the average of the ten largest California cities, the City of San Diego would generate an additional $300 million in revenue each year. Yet we have witnessed time and again (most recently with the failure of Proposition D) the distaste voters have for simply paying for their fair share of services.

So you, the unwavering and committed City worker, continue to do more with less. One of countless examples is San Diego librarian Jennifer Suder who is now responsible for 10,000 books in comparison to her counterparts in any large California city who only manages an average of 6,000 books. There is also John Anderson, a park ranger for Mission Bay Park who must contend with the fact that even though our city has the largest park acreage among the 8 largest cities in California, San Diego’s park expenditure is the lowest ($2,610 per park acre) among all of the cities, and far below the state average ($6,442 per park acre).

What do City employees like Jennifer and John receive for their decades of dedication and service? Although certain politicians and media outlets will tell you that these employees will ride into the retirement sunset with a lavish six figure pension package, it is simply not true. After 25 to 30 years of service, the average MEA-represented employee can expect to receive a pension of about $35,000 a year – with no social security benefit: And that pension is paid for in large part by the employee, not just “the taxpayer.” Clearly the image of public employees driving off with Cadillac benefits is far more fantasy than fact.

Although MEA will continue to engage the public and get the facts out about these issues, certain media outlets and politicians seem like they’ll never lose interest in vilifying you, and they will refuse to acknowledge the facts and a more accurate portrayal of the average City worker. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon, especially with the next election cycle just around the corner.

Yet regardless of what is thrown our way, we have the tools which will equip us to ultimately win the battle. We have our integrity, our pride, our strong work ethic and the knowledge that at the end of the day, our public service efforts are what keep our communities going.