New Civil Grand Jury Report Exposes City’s Understaffing Crisis

report released by the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury last week confirms what our union has been sounding the alarm about for years: our City is in a serious understaffing crisis. We hope that this report will be a call to action in addressing the City’s difficulties with recruitment and retention in critical services like public works, public health and public transit. The SF Labor Council Public Employer Committee issued a press release in response.

The report warns that “the effects of understaffed critical City services are everywhere” and makes the following recommendation: “To dramatically shorten the hiring timeline and recruit and retain critical service jobs, the Jury recommends that the City immediately establish hiring plans for these vacant positions and invest in significant, long-term improvements to the hiring process. The City must supplement these with efforts to improve employee retention.”

The jury emphasizes how vacancy rates are especially high in departments that provide critical City services, such as the Department of Public Health (DPH) and Department of Public Works (DPW). The highest number of vacant jobs are in DPH—accounting for 1,000 vacant jobs out of the City’s roughly 4,700 permanent vacancies. The Jury found that this severe understaffing has led to worse service outcomes at Zuckerberg SF General Hospital. “When the Hospital is understaffed, patients experience longer wait times and ambulances are rerouted to other hospitals because ZSFG cannot accommodate new patients because of staffing shortages.”

As the grand jury report acknowledges, the City is losing workers at an increasing rate as they seek higher salaries in the private sector, cheaper cost of living outside of San Francisco, and less stressful work. While we look forward to working with the City leadership on ways to move hiring faster while prioritizing diversity and merit, we know that long hiring timelines are not the only problem. The city is actively losing its public servants and we need to stop the bleeding. The report also warns that 40% of the city’s workforce is over age 50 and approaching retirement, meaning that if we do not take action soon, staffing problems are likely to grow.

One of the key bottlenecks to staffing up SF identified by the report is understaffing in the Department of Human Resources: “With a departmental vacancy rate of over 20% in the number of permanent full-time employees, DHR is hampered in fulfilling its duty to provide crucial and timely support to other city departments during the hiring process. This delays the review of applications, and key onboarding steps, such as fingerprinting and background checks.”

Additionally, the report criticizes the City Administration’s overreliance on temporary exempt workers: “We recommend that the Department of Human Resources develop a plan to formally audit the use of temporary exempt positions each year to minimize their overuse.”

Our contract expires in one year, and this report reinforces much of what we must continue to advocate for in our bargaining campaigns. We look forward to building our power together to Staff Up SF and ensure residents get the high-quality, timely public services that they deserve!