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From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn



April 7, 2003

Personalizing the Layoffs

I had to tell someone that he was reachable this week.

For those who don't work in the bureaucracy known as the City and County of San Francisco, this means that he might be "bumped" from his job by a senior employee. Under the system used by the City, when senior employees are slated to lose their job, it is possible for them move into the job of someone who has less seniority in the same classification.

It was reported that 500 people received pink slips this week. It was also reported that approximately 1,300 to 1,500 people are likely to lose their jobs.

My employee reminded me that he had one daughter who just started kindergarten in a new school, another daughter who just started preschool, a sick father in Hong Kong, a wife who has just changed jobs, and a new, more expensive family apartment that is within walking distance of his daughters' new schools.

I told him that I knew, but it was not my decision.

My employee reminded me that he had taken on additional tasks, talked on Chinese radio about city services, gotten customers' complaints taken care of promptly, and improved the department's customer service efforts. I thanked him for all of his work -- and reminded him that it was not my decision.

We then strategized together on how he could be less "reachable." Together we created a war plan whereby he could be seen as having specialized skills that couldn't be replaced by just another person on the list.

He breathed a little easier.

We made an appointment to see how many people were more senior to him on the classification list and, just as important, how many people were junior. We found that 7 people were above him and 22 people were below.

There was great rejoicing in my office. Not only did he rejoice. Not only did I rejoice. But my entire staff danced around the office in joy for our team member.

I have a great team!!

But those people below him have families. And bills. And problems like sick fathers.

No matter who they are, they will be impacted if they are laid off.

I don't envy the Mayor's Office of the Budget. Nor do I envy the BOS' Budget Office. It's a tough time to make financial decisions impacting the entire city.

If I had make a decision between funding the emergency room of San Francisco General Hospital and funding 40 administrative assistants, I would see it as straightforward: for the emergency room. But it doesn't mean that it would be an easy decision.

Adam Smith said that real economic changes are made during painful economic times. We avoid changing habits and behavior until we are actually forced to.

What should we do? Here is my suggestion: the Board of Supervisors should create an advisory committee of retired financial officers from corporations, successful nonprofits, and government institutions to find additional revenue sources for the City. San Francisco draws people from all over the world -- and some of them have been able to create successful enterprises. Paul Hawkens, the powerhouse behind Smith and Hawkens and author of several books on a sustainable economy, has his foundation here. Amory Lovins, the guru of energy and the economy, has several staff people here. We are blessed with experts who may want to donate their services to help the city where they live. Use that brainpower and have them create ideas for bringing extra money into the City.

It can't hurt. It might even help.