Under new legislation, San Francisco grocery employees will earn $5 more per hour for working during the pandemic. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Under new legislation, San Francisco grocery employees will earn $5 more per hour for working during the pandemic. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Hazard pay for store workers wins unanimous approval

San Francisco’s grocery and drug store employees will receive a $5 per hour wage increase after the Board of Supervisors approved hazard pay legislation Tuesday.

With the unanimous approval, San Francisco joins a growing number of California jurisdictions that have already passed a temporary wage increase called for by the United Food and Commercial Workers labor union.

“While we are getting more people vaccinated every day, none of us can predict where we will be in two months,” said Board President Shamann Walton, who introduced the proposal. “This emergency ordinance will provide the extra protection and deserved for our essential grocery and drug store workers.”

The law applies to grocery and drug stores with 500 or more employees worldwide, including at least 20 in San Francisco, and to employees, including security guards and janitors, earning under $35 per hour or $75,000 a year. The current minimum wage in San Francisco is $16.07 per hour.

Dan Larson, president of UFCW Local 648, told a board committee last week that the proposal acknowledges “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.”

In backing the hazard pay, the union points to a November 2020 study by the Brookings Institution that said “while top retail companies’ profits have soared during the pandemic, pay for their frontline workers—in most cases—has not.”

The study said that “in total, the top retail companies in our analysis earned on average an extra $16.7 billion in profit this year compared to last—a stunning 40% increase—while stock prices are up an average of 33%.”

Stores had offered some form of hazard at the beginning of the pandemic, but many discontinued the pay increase in June, city officials said.

Daly City Council unanimously adopted a similar proposal Monday, drawing praise from Daly City Mayor Juslyn Manalo.

“These workers face large amounts of people every single day and they are not afforded the opportunity to work from home. They are risking themselves, their families and their loved ones,” Manalo said in a statement. “Grocery and drug store workers are our local heroes and have helped keep our food and pharmaceutical supply chains intact during the entire pandemic.”

The California Grocers Association, a trade group representing thousands of grocery stores in the state, opposed San Francisco’s legislation and has sued other cities who have adopted similar laws. A federal judge recently ruled against an injunction sought by the association to block the City of Long Beach’s hazard pay from going into effect.

In that case, the group argued that the law “is likely to lead to an increase in grocery prices, and it will reduce the number of jobs and grocery stores in Long Beach at a time when the City’s unemployment is at a historic high.”

The association has also filed lawsuits against Montebello, San Leandro, Oakland and West Hollywood.

Nate Rose, a spokesperson for the California Grocers Association, previously told the San Francisco Examiner that a decision whether to reward employees “is best left to the grocery stores to work out.”

“Every grocery store has its own set of economics that it’s working through,” he said.

Grocery store employees became eligible in San Francisco to receive the vaccine against COVID-19 on Feb. 24, but the pace of vaccinations in The City has been slowed by a lack of supply. As of Tuesday, 26%, or 196,750 of the residents over the age of 16 received their first dose of the vaccine, and 93,080 have received their second dose.

San Francisco’s law goes into effect for 60 days, but could be re-enacted by the board.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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