Cashiers and other store employees at larger chains could see an increase in pay under proposed legislation. (Shutterstock)

Cashiers and other store employees at larger chains could see an increase in pay under proposed legislation. (Shutterstock)

Hazard pay for drug and grocery store employees wins backing

Smaller local chains object to inclusion in measure

San Francisco’s proposal to require large grocery stores and retailers with pharmacies to pay their employees $5 per hour in hazard pay appears to have the votes to pass next week.

The emergency ordinance already has seven co-sponsors and on Thursday Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who is not yet listed among them, said he supported the proposal. It needs at least eight votes to pass.

The Board of Supervisors Government and Audit Committee, on which Mandelman serves, voted to send the proposal, which was introduced by Board President Shamann Walton, to the full board for a vote next week.

Supervisor Dean Preston said that the proposal is about “recognizing that service and rewarding that service” of a workforce that has been working throughout the pandemic but “is often really taken for granted.”

Some stores have offered some form of hazard pay at the start of the pandemic, but many discontinued it in June 2020, city officials said.

The proposed $5 per hour pay increase applies to employees earning under $35 per hour or $75,000 annually in grocery and drug stores with 500 or more employees worldwide, including at least 20 in San Francisco. Employees covered by the legislation also include janitors and security guards working on site. Employers in San Francisco must pay their employees at least $16.07 per hour under the city’s minimum wage law.

An increasing number of cities in California are adopting similar proposals backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers labor union.

“We may never know the many dangers and sacrifices that each worker made during these times but this ordinance does acknowledge that dangerous conditions exist and it tells the employers clearly that providing the absolute minimum protections to your most valuable resources, your employees, is not enough,” said Dan Larson, president of UFCW Local 648.

The proposal has drawn opposition from the California Grocers Association, which has sued other cities who have adopted similar laws. Mike Stone, owner of Mollie Stone’s Markets, said he objected to having it apply to his stores.

Stone said the company has 675 employees across nine Bay Area stores, including three in San Francisco, and that it has “rewarded our employees with increases in their hourly pay for a number of months over the past year, the latest ending in the first part of this February.”

He said they have had “only one [COVID] case in the last 30 days in our three stores in San Francisco” and that “60 percent of our workforce in San Francisco have gotten the vaccine or have an appointment to get it.”

“You are forcing us to go negotiate with the union when we fairly provided the utmost protection for all our employees,” he said.

Preston and Mandelman acknowledged Stone’s concerns, but didn’t offer any amendments to exempt his stores.

“I do think of Mollie Stone’s of being in a very different category certainly than the Whole Foods of the world,” Mandleman said, questioning the employee threshold to trigger the requirement.

A representative from Walton’s office said they chose 500 employees to be consistent with what many other cities have done.

“I support the ordinance, still wondering whether we have the right thresholds,” Mandelman said in a text to the San Francisco Examiner after the vote.

The law would remain in effect for 60 days if approved but could be reenacted by the board.

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