SEIU 1021

San Francisco Civil Grand Jury confirms what we’ve said for years: It’s time to staff up San Francisco


On Thursday, June 22, 2023, the Civil Grand Jury for the 2022-to-2023 term published its “Time to Get to Work: San Francisco’s Hiring Crisis” report. The report describes how the City and County of San Francisco faces a crisis of excessive turnover and lack of recruitment in programs that address the city’s problems with drug addiction, untreated mental health disorders, and housing insecurity. The number of vacant permanent city and county jobs has more than doubled from pre-pandemic levels.

The hiring crisis means that critical work and projects are at risk. It also burdens employees, who often do the work of two or sometimes three people. San Francisco’s constrained ability to deliver services inhibits the economic recovery in post-COVID-19 San Francisco, and residents are suffering the effects of such diminished capacity.

“You’re going to fail because of a lack of resources to actually do what needs to be done,” stressed Heather Bollinger, president of the SIEU 1021 Registered Nurses chapter at the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. “I have four people to do the job of 12 people. Our hospital is overcrowded all day, every day. Unfortunately, what that means for patients is that when patients walk in the door to our emergency department, they may wait hours, but we can’t be held to this standard that is impossible without the resources to support it. Our hospital runs at 110 to 120 percent capacity.”

The Public Employee Committee (PEC) of the San Francisco Labor Council has been at the forefront of fighting for safe staffing levels. In early 2022, the PEC launched the “Staff Up San Francisco” campaign, highlighting the hiring crisis. The campaign centers City and County workers who have risked their own and their families’ lives to keep these services running and help make San Francisco a leading example.

“The civil grand jury report confirms what workers for the City and County of San Francisco have been saying all along—San Francisco is woefully understaffed, over-reliant on temps, overtime, and travelers to perform basic public services, and not competitive as an employer for both recruitment and retention,” said San Francisco Labor Council PEC Co-Chair and SEIU 1021 Executive Director David Canham. “The result of that failure is not just at the expense of the workforce but the direct suffering of patients of the San Francisco Department of Public Health not getting the right services when needed.”

“As the Civil Grand Jury report proves, the hiring process starts late, requires steps be processed manually instead of automatically, and doesn’t take steps concurrently,” expressed San Francisco Labor Council PEC Co-Chair Rudy Gonzalez. “More importantly, the experience of the applicant is terrible. The system is confusing and impossible to navigate.”

The “Time to Get to Work: San Francisco’s Hiring Crisis” report identifies the San Francisco Department of Public Health as the most prominent department with the highest vacancy rates. The San Francisco Department of Public Health competes for staffing with University of California, San Francisco Health, and private employers, including Stanford Health Care, Kaiser Permanente, and Sutter Health. We see a high turnover among members with less than 10 years with the City and County, for whom the City’s better retirement benefits are too remote to be worth the hassle.

The City and County interprets its budget rules as preventing it from responding agilely to market conditions. A recent study found that a household would need to earn $61.50 per hour, or $127,000 per year, to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in the San Francisco metropolitan area. Non-competitive wages lead to a vicious cycle of burnout, excessive turnover, and recruitment problems that harm the City and County’s response to its most challenging issues.

The PEC of the San Francisco Labor Council is encouraged to see that the 2022 to 2023 Civil Grand Jury’s “Time to Get to Work: San Francisco’s Hiring Crisis” report recommends creating additional pipelines to City and County jobs for San Francisco’s high school and college students. The PEC strongly advocates for creating pathways to a lifelong career in public service to help San Francisco’s local economy grow equitably and ensure that our City and County’s workforce reflects the diverse residents it serves. The PEC urges City and County leadership to explore targeting those programs to community colleges and high schools in neighborhoods that need economic uplift and high-quality job opportunities.

“We strongly agree with the Civil Grand Jury’s findings that the city has over-utilized temporary workers and outside contracts as a band-aid solution to structural understaffing problems,” said San Francisco Labor Council PEC Co-Chair Debra Grabelle. “Now is when the City and County of San Francisco needs vision and leadership; we should be hiring to deliver for our communities. Through the prolific rains caused by atmospheric rivers, the COVID-19 pandemic, and every crisis or emergency we face, time and time again, we see that San Francisco needs robust public services.”