Cities including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are calling for large grocery and drug store chains to pay employees hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)

Cities including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are calling for large grocery and drug store chains to pay employees hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)

SF proposes $5 hazard pay law for grocery, drug store workers

San Francisco may soon join the growing number of cities requiring large grocery stores and pharmacies to boost compensation of their workers with hazard pay.

Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton has introduced legislation that would require large grocery stores and drug stores, along with janitorial and security contractors whose employees work at these sites, to provide their workers with an additional $5 per hour hazard pay. It would benefit workers earning under $35 per hour.

“We are joining other cities like Long Beach, Berkeley, Oakland, Santa Clara, San Leandro and more who have already enacted similar ordinances,” Walton said when introducing the legislation last week. “The additional hazard pay will allow workers to purchase PPE, use it on transportation or any other method to continue to protect themselves from COVID-19 while working in a workplace that has an ongoing high public interaction.”

Walton said that a lot of the stores impacted by the proposal did provide some form of hazard at the beginning of the pandemic last year “but many of the stores coordinated to stop together in June of 2020 while this pandemic has been ongoing and even surged over the winter.”

The Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee is scheduled to vote on the legislation Thursday. It applies to grocery stores and drug stores with 500 or more employees worldwide including at least 20 employees in The City. “This legislation does not include small or mom-and-pop grocery stores or drug stores that do not meet those requirements,” Walton noted.

If stores are paying an existing hazard pay less than $5 then they would need to increase the amount to hit $5. But if hazard pay brings the per hour amount beyond $35 then no increase is required, as in the case of an employee earning a base of $32 per hour and receiving $4 hazard pay.

The United Food and Commercial Workers has pushed for hazard pay throughout the nation. Their chapters Local 5 and Local 648 represent grocery workers in San Francisco.

“Grocery companies are making an inordinate amount of profit during the pandemic and it’s only fair workers see some of that profit for the risk they take going to work each and every day,” Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns, UFCW Local 5, said in a statement last week in support of the increasing adoption of hazard pay.

The California Grocers Association, which represents about 6,000 grocers in the state, is opposing hazard pay, but a federal judge denied the trade group’s a preliminary injunction last week seeking to block the City of Long Beach’s law requiring a $4 per hour hazard pay, which was adopted in January.

“The Ordinance is more likely to impede grocers’ efforts to develop a safe shopping environment,” the grocery trade group argued in the federal court filing. “It 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.”

It is unclear if San Francisco would face a similar lawsuit. The association has also filed lawsuits against Montebello, San Leandro, Oakland and West Hollywood.

“We are looking at these on a case-by-case basis once they are passed,” Nate Rose, a spokesperson for the California Grocers Association, told the San Francisco Examiner.

Rose said that rewarding employees can take various forms and “we think that decision 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.

If the committee approves the legislation, the full board would vote on it on March 9. As an emergency ordinance, it requires at latest eight votes to pass. In addition to Walton, the proposal has the initial backing of Supervisors Matt Haney, Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen.

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

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