Stores including Walgreens and Safeway are required to pay their employees additional hazard pay under a city ordinance that is currently set to expire later this month. (Shutterstock)

Stores including Walgreens and Safeway are required to pay their employees additional hazard pay under a city ordinance that is currently set to expire later this month. (Shutterstock)

Grocery workers could gain additional weeks of $5 per hour hazard pay

San Francisco will vote next week on whether to extend a law requiring grocery stores to give their workers an additional $5 per hour hazard pay until June 15.

The Board of Supervisors voted in March to require grocery and drug stores with at least 500 employees to pay their workers an additional $5 per hour. The law went into effect on March 20, but the requirement expires on May 19.

Now Board President Shamann Walton, who introduced the initial law, is proposing to extend the hazard pay until June 15.

The proposal appears likely to pass, despite opposition from the grocery industry. The board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee unanimously approved the extension Thursday and the full board is slated to vote on it Tuesday.

Natalie Gee, Walton’s chief of staff, said the new date was chosen “to align with the state’s plans to reopen the economy.”

In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom set a goal of lifting the color-coded tier system on June 15 and “opening up this economy.”

The grocery industry, which opposed the initial law, argued that since San Francisco moved into the state’s least restrictive COVID-19 yellow tier this week there is no longer a justification for hazard pay. The yellow tier is assigned to counties when the risk of the spread of the virus is minimal.

“There is no further need to extend this ordinance,” said Aaron Stone, an owner of Mollie Stone’s Markets. “There is no hazard. All of our employees have been vaccinated with the exception of a few that chose not to do it.”

But Gee said, “There’s still a risk of working in the store where you are exposed to the public on a daily basis.”

She said there is more time needed for San Franciscans to get fully vaccinated. Fifty-one percent of residents of those aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated. And she noted that surrounding Bay Area counties remain in the orange tier.

Claire Courtney, an organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, which represents grocery workers, said, “This pandemic, while we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is so far from over.”

Courtney said that the grocer’s “absurd profits” gained during the pandemic are “not trickling down to their workers” and that the law was needed to “make sure that they are doing the right thing.”

“They aren’t going to increase wages once this hazard pay is away,” Courtney said. “And these workers need these increased wages.”

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