South City adopts $5 hazard pay

Grocery store and pharmacy employees facing widespread exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace will receive additional hazard pay worth $5 per hour in South San Francisco.

The South San Francisco City Council unanimously passed a proposal to retroactively raise the pay for employees of large grocery store and pharmacy chains during a meeting Wednesday, Feb. 24.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is also looking to adopt a similar ordinance, which could be enacted countywide or might be limited to the unincorporated areas. Officials in the city of San Mateo expressed interest in a hazard pay requirement too, and are expected to vote on the issue Monday, March 1.

For his part, South San Francisco Mayor Mark Addiego said he believes the mandate will signal the care and concern officials have for essential workers putting their health at risk to provide a critical service.

“This is quite a message to send to others,” said Addiego.

Under the decision, workers at grocery and drug stores with more than 500 employees nationally will be eligible to receive the extra pay, retroactive to Thursday, Feb. 11.

The retroactivity clause tracks back roughly to when officials first showed interest in adopting the hazard pay mandate, but shied away due to ongoing litigation brought by the grocery industry.

A California district court though ruled against the injunction Thursday, Feb. 25. The decision aligns with the expectation of City Attorney Sky Woodruff who advised South San Francisco councilmembers that he felt the courts would side with the rights of cities to require the additional pay.

In South San Francisco, the stores, as well as Costco, will be expected to continue paying the increased rate for the next 90 days, but officials reserve the right to extend the deadline if the pandemic lingers.

Officials had considered linking the pay obligation to the county’s safety tier, but uncertainty over when a return to the normal yellow stage would be possible discouraged them from adopting the proposal.

Also as part of the decision, councilmembers mandated that the identified stores must pay workers up to four hours of leave time to fulfill vaccination appointments. Officials noted some workers may need to go as far as the Oakland Coliseum to get shots, so the allotted break time must consider the distance.

The ordinance includes a carve out for franchise stores, at the request of Addiego who considered the obligation of local franchisees similar to those of independent merchants.

In the discussion regarding hazard pay, officials have been careful to assure they are not harming small business owners who could be struggling amid the pandemic.

Companies such as Lucky Stores, which have voluntarily hiked hazard pay for workers during the pandemic, would be excluded from the mandate as well.