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Attorneys and other employees who work for the San Francisco public defender, district attorney and city attorney may be taking home smaller paychecks come July 1. It’s contract negotiation season, and San Francisco wants its employees to start contributing 7.5 percent of their annual salaries to their pensions to help the city deal with a staggering $332 million budget shortfall. Currently, the city pays all or most of retirement contributions, which can total up to 8 percent of an employee’s pretax annual salary. The city is offering more paid time off, such as extra floating holidays, if employees pick up those retirement contributions. But such a concession would still have employees taking home thousands of dollars less a year than they do now. The roughly 430 members of the Municipal Attorney’s Association of San Francisco will vote on a tentative agreement that includes that trade-off this week. Besides the district attorney’s, public defender’s and city attorney’s offices, the association includes lawyers in other city departments. “I hope that the membership is going to recognize that these truly are hard financial times for the city, and that this is a reasonable response,” said the association’s president, Deputy City Attorney Tom Owen. “If the agreement is rejected, then we go to arbitration.” If workers accept the pension pickup, employees who now make an annual salary of $40,000 before taxes would take home $1,193 to $2,340 a year less next year, and those making $120,000 a year now would take home $3,580 to $7,020 less a year, according to estimates from the city controller’s office. But the impact on an employee’s paycheck would vary, depending on other factors, such as tax bracket, how much of a retirement contribution is already being picked up and whether the person’s current contract calls for a July 1 raise, said San Francisco Controller Ed Harrington. If all the city’s bargaining units were to agree to the 7.5 percent pension pickup, it would save the city about $90 million a year, said mayoral spokesman P.J. Johnston. That would put a significant dent in the budget shortfall the city has to eliminate to come up with a balanced budget for next fiscal year. “I’m not surprised,” Deputy City Attorney Andrew Schwartz said of the proposal, noting that he and other members of the Municipal Attorney’s Association saw their pay cut last year, as well as in the “hard budget” years of the early 1990s. “I’m disappointed that instead of cost-of-living increases to keep pace with increases in the cost of living, that we’re getting pay cuts,” Schwartz added. “But I know they’re necessary.” If attorneys see their paychecks shrink, he hopes employees across the city share the burden, he said. The controller offered a silver-lining view of the situation. “Doing a pre-tax pickup of retirement is kind of the best way if you’re going to take a cut,” Harrington said, because it doesn’t affect other benefits that are calculated as a percentage of salary, such as overtime compensation or retirement benefits. Six bargaining units represent nearly all of the approximately 400 attorneys and 320 other staff in the public defender’s, district attorney’s and city attorney’s offices. Theirs are among the more than 40 labor contracts with the city that will expire June 30, said Geoffrey Rothman, the city’s employee relations director. About half of the city’s employees started picking up 2.75 percent of their retirement contributions last year, when the city was beginning to feel the fiscal crunch, in exchange for a guaranteed 1 percent raise in July, Harrington said. Employees represented by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, the Municipal Executives Association and the Transport Workers Union Local 200 have ratified agreements that include the 7.5 percent retirement pickup. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors still must sign off on those deals. “It’s not great. It’s not anything that makes anybody happy,” said Carol Isen, associate director of Local 21. But if the city were to make up its entire budget shortfall with layoffs, she said, “it would just have been an intolerable situation.” An additional five floating holidays “definitely helped,” Isen added. “The city’s vacation policy is not very generous. And so it did speak to one of our longstanding concerns.” The city’s “schtick” this year was “we’ll do anything we can that’s financially neutral,” said Deputy City Attorney Sean Connolly, a negotiator for the attorneys association, noting that they bargained for, and got, more favorable severance terms, as well as additional floating holidays. One thing Local 21 members didn’t get was a guarantee against layoffs, which they have in their soon-to-expire contract. “We are making no guarantees regarding layoffs,” said Rothman. Local 21′s two-year agreement includes a provision that allows either the union or the city to reopen wage and retirement pickup discussions after one year. The Municipal Attorney’s Association’s tentative agreement puts a one-year limit on the increase to employees’ retirement pickup with a sunset provision. Service Employees International Union Local 790 and the Municipal Attorney’s Association have tentative agreements awaiting member votes, and the San Francisco District Attorney Investigators’ Association is still negotiating, Rothman said. San Francisco Superior Court has not begun contract negotiations yet, said Cheryl Martin, human resources director for the court. Three of the four union contracts in place don’t expire until Dec. 31, and the court hopes to extend the fourth, which expires June 30, until the end of the calendar year, she said. Some court employees who aren’t members of SEIU Local 790, but who have agency shop fees deducted from their paychecks, are trying to fight that arrangement. They began circulating petitions about two weeks ago in hopes that they can force a vote to eliminate the union’s agency shop status, said court clerk Frank Henton.

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