The proposed ordinance would mandate grocery and drugstores in unincorporated county areas to pay their front-line workers $5 per hour in additional pay for 120 days.
Grocery stores or drugstores affected by the ordinance would be those that have 300 or more employees nationwide and dedicate a certain amount of space to selling groceries or other non-taxable goods. For instance, affected grocery stores would be those over 10,000 square feet that have 70% or more in their sales area dedicated to food sales or receive 70% of revenue from food sales, or stores larger than 85,000 square feet that devote at least 10% of their sales floor area to non-taxable consumer goods.
Workers who are affected include those who work at least two hours per week, are paid by the hour and qualify to be paid the minimum wage under state law, according to the draft ordinance.
In public comments, representatives from local unions emphasized the burdens that grocery store workers have taken on during the pandemic.
According to Julie Lind of the San Mateo County Central Labor Council, grocery store workers have continued to face high levels of coronavirus exposure and safety risks by enforcing mask mandates on sometimes unwilling patrons, all while preserving the public's uninterrupted access to food and pharmacy goods.
They do all this while generally earning between $15 and $19 per hour and often lack paid sick leave, she said. And, she said, some research indicates that about 1 in 5 grocery store workers nationally have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
One study, published in October in the Occupation and Environmental Medicine Journal, found that 21 of 104 workers tested in a Boston grocery store tested positive for COVID-19, and a majority were asymptomatic at the time they were tested in May. It also found that those who were directly exposed to customers were five times more likely to test positive for the virus.
Although the county does not retain a registry of businesses in unincorporated San Mateo County, it appeared that the proposed ordinance would only apply to two grocery stores: the two Chavez Market locations in North Fair Oaks, on Fifth Avenue and on Middlefield Road.
Slocum expressed concern that the Latino-owned businesses could be unfairly burdened by the ordinance, and Supervisor Carole Groom said she worried that the ordinance could raise prices further in a neighborhood where many can not afford them.
"Does this meet requirements of our equity lens in the county?" Slocum asked.
While the proposal is sent back for review by county staff members, the pause will also give the county a chance to monitor the progress of litigation against similar ordinances in California.
The California Grocers Association has so far filed suits against Long Beach, Oakland and Montebello in response to similar legislation in those communities, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Supervisors planned to reconsider the matter in two weeks, with the possibility of extending the timeline if needed to ensure stakeholders have enough time to discuss the matter.
Some members also expressed interest in extending the ordinance to apply countywide rather than just in unincorporated areas, but it wasn't immediately clear if that was within the supervisors' jurisdiction. County Counsel John Beiers said it would take more analysis and work to make the needed findings for the ordinance to apply countywide.
The Menlo Park City Council is not considering a hazard pay ordinance at this time, Mayor Drew Combs said in an interview March 1.
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