Grocery and drugstore workers in San Mateo will get a $5 per hour pay increase after the city passed a hazard pay ordinance, joining several Bay Area cities that have passed similar ordinances.
“This is a pretty measured approach. It’s just until we get a vaccination rate that is higher. I thank the council for being committed to this,” Councilwoman Diane Papan said.
The ordinance applies to grocery and drugstores that employ 750 people nationwide, with grocery stores defined as retailers that devote 10% or more of floor area to food sales. Covered employees include nonsalaried workers exposed to customers, with some exceptions for exclusion based on negotiations in collective bargaining agreements. The pay increases begin immediately, with a 90-day emergency ordinance adopted by the City Council Monday, with plans to adopt a 120-day regular ordinance at the March 15 meeting. The ordinance would affect stores like Chavez Supermarket, CVS, Rite Aid, Safeway, Smart & Final, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens and Whole Foods, the city said. It includes four hours of paid leave to get a vaccination.
Papan said the ordinance targeted large publicly traded companies with 750 workers nationwide who had the means to provide hazard pay rather than lumping regional grocery stores that have been providing help to their workers. Papan, who first brought up the issue at a previous City Council January goal session meeting, said the issue was important to her given the exposure and dangers the workers face every day and the essential service they provide to many people’s lives.
“It was something that I cared about very deeply instantly. It’s really great that the rest of the council shared that interest and the passion,” Papan said.
Originally aimed at grocery and drugstores with more than 500 employees, it was amended Monday to 750 employees to exempt some local, regional markets that would possibly pass on costs to customers. The change will exempt Nijiya Market and Mollie Stone’s, but not Chavez Supermarket, which has more than 800 employees. Stores like Draeger’s Market and Piazza’s are under 500 employees.
Mike Stone, the owner of Mollie Stone’s, said Monday he has done the right things for employees, customers and the community, including purchasing $500,000 in PPE equipment and paying employees well. He said the company had 675 employees in nine stores across the Bay Area and not had any employee case of COVID-19 at its San Mateo store. He maintains the company would have had to look at layoffs and possible San Mateo store closure locations if it did not get an exemption.
Deputy Mayor Rick Bonilla thought Chavez and Mollie Stone’s were big enough and should not be exempted, as he believes the stores employ enough people and have employees that the city should try and help through an ordinance.
“We are here today because we love our residents. We love our store workers. We are here to protect as many as possible in a reasonable way. Raising the limit and exempting more doesn’t achieve that,” Bonilla said.
Councilwoman Amourence Lee also was in favor of the ordinance being for 500 employees or more. She asked the ordinance to exclude a single owned or operated franchise owned by a single owner, which the City Council included in the language. It passed unanimously 5-0.
South San Francisco passed a hazard pay ordinance Feb. 24.
Several union representatives and members spoke at the meeting about the importance of a pay increase. Leon Wong of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, which represent grocery store and other workers, said the hazard pay is critical for workers facing higher risks of COVID-19 and should be called appreciation or hero pay.
“Hazard pay is not just an appreciation for the service to the community during the pandemic, but most importantly, these extra dollars per hour will help them buy extra PPEs that their employers fail to provide, besides helping them with bills, debt and buying more food for their families, and that makes a huge difference for the workers,” Wong said.
A judge denied a preliminary injunction from the California Grocers Association last week in a case against the city of Long Beach that tried to prevent the city from enforcing a similar hazard pay ordinance, an early positive indication for San Mateo legally.
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