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Willie Brown Is the Jeremy Affeldt of the Lee Administration

Scott Lucas | July 1, 2014 | Story Politics

Mayor Ed Lee, never the most charismatic speaker, is often happy to hand over the microphone to former mayor Willie Brown at public events. But during the recently-completed round of Muni contract negotiations, Lee turned Brown into a bona fide closer. But did the former mayor and current Chronicle columnist throw a save? Or did he blow it?

Here's what we know for sure. The contract for Muni workers was due to expire. Management put forward a proposal to give the workers, already among the nation's most-highly paid, a wage increase of 11.25% over two years, but which would have also required them to contribute 7.5% of their paychecks to their pensions, a payment that the city previously covered. High pension costs had been at the heart of municipal bankruptcies like Stockton's. The union, concerned about the high costs of living in the Bay Area, requested an additional raise to offset the change in pension payments. Management said no, and the union formally rejected the offer on May 30. Muni workers, legally prevented from striking, later staged a three-day sickout, which the union disavowed.

Enter another round of contract negotiations—and Ed Lee's call to the bullpen. After two months of negotiation, Brown managed to settle the contract rather quickly. When the details were announced, the union's public position was vindicated: In exchange for the pension payments, Muni workers will be receiving a 14.25 percent raise over the next three years—more than enough to offset the costs.

Said MTA Director Ed Reiskin of Brown: "He's someone who understands the city, understands labor, the underlying interests. He was certainly the man here." Brown himself had no comment.

Labor negotiations are famously inscrutable, so it's hard to know exactly what went down. But every side walked away with something: Management received the pension changes. The unions received a larger raise than had previously been offered. The city avoided another sickout. Let's call that a save—and let's see if Brown wants to take Sergio Romo's job.

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