San Mateo County’s Board of Supervisors decided on Tuesday to hold off on introducing a hazard pay ordinance that would give grocery store workers in unincorporated county areas an extra $5 per hour.
The ordinance would apply to grocery stores, drugstores and some other large stores in unincorporated areas of the county that employ at least 300 workers nationally. Those employers would have to pay some workers an additional $5 per hour for 120 days once the ordinance is effective.
If the board had voted to introduce it on Tuesday, the ordinance would have likely gone into effect April 22 and would have applied through Aug. 20, County Counsel John Beiers said.
Beiers said the ordinance was meant to offset the risk that grocery workers face, citing a 2020 study from the peer-reviewed journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which found that employees with direct exposure to customers were five times more likely to test positive for COVID-19.
“The idea is that that extra income will help offset or mitigate some of that risk by allowing, for example, the workers to purchase more PPE (personal protective equipment), maybe get a better living situation and safer modes of transportation among other things,” Beiers said.
Instead of voting on whether to introduce the ordinance, the Board of Supervisors chose to table it for a future meeting so they could explore equity concerns and the possibility of expanding the ordinance to apply countywide.
Supervisor Warren Slocum asked whether the scope of the ordinance was equitable, given one of the groceries that might be affected is a Latinx-owned supermarket in the unincorporated North Fair Oaks neighborhood. Beiers estimated that two grocery stores may fall under the ordinance if adopted.
Board President David Canepa, who co-sponsored the item with Supervisor Don Horsley, said that he understood the equity concern and the push to make it countywide but supported the ordinance as written, saying it could serve as a model for cities to potentially adopt.
“In an ideal world, do I want it to go countywide? Absolutely, I do,” Canepa said. “But I just think the greater message that we send out to these other cities is going to be really impactful.”
Beiers said they would need to find facts to support a countywide ordinance and that there’s a “pretty significant legal risk”, given that the California Grocers Association has sued Oakland and other cities over their hazard pay ordinances, alleging that the pay increase is unconstitutional.
Several representatives from local unions of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in support of the ordinance.
Dan Larson, president of UFCW Local 648 based in San Francisco, said the ordinance will recognize the sacrifices and difficult conditions that workers endure.
“They don’t have the luxury of staying home and working on a computer. They have to show up and they show up with pride,” Larson said. “They make sure it’s a safe environment for people to shop in. They deal with customers who won’t wear the masks. They get spit at. They get things thrown at them. It’s a hellhole sometimes, to tell you the truth.”
Julie Lind Rupp, executive officer and executive secretary treasurer of the San Mateo County Central Labor Council, said that over 2,000 members of UFCW Locals 5 and 648 unions had contracted COVID-19. Rupp said that workers and city leaders she’d spoken to supported a countywide ordinance.
In the Bay Area, the cities of Oakland, San Leandro and San Jose have passed similar ordinances. The city of San Mateo will consider adopting a hazard pay ordinance for large grocery stores and drugstores, possibly for a vote on Mar. 1.
To view details on the proposed ordinance, visit https://sanmateocounty.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4804514&GUID=3D491C8C-9F80-491A-A671-49021E725835&FullText=1.
View the study of grocery store workers in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal at https://oem.bmj.com/content/early/2020/10/11/oemed-2020-106774.