BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The San Carlos and Redwood City councils last night (March 8) each asked their respective city managers to draft ordinances to boost the pay of grocery and pharmacy employees during the pandemic.
South San Francisco and San Mateo city councils have recently passed $5-an-hour increases. Daly City Council approved a $7-an-hour hazard pay.
Redwood City council members talked about a $5-an-hour increase while no amount was discussed in San Carlos.
The move in San Carlos and Redwood City comes a month after Kroger Co. announced it would be closing two of its stores in Long Beach after that city imposed a $4-an-hour increase on workers there.
Neither San Carlos or Redwood City officially approved an increase last night. Instead, a council member in each city asked to put a discussion of the idea on the agenda, and then council would decide whether to have city employees write an ordinance for the council to vote on later.
In Redwood City, the proposal came from Council membrer Lissette Espinoza-Garnica and in San Carlos it was Mayor Laura Parmer-Lohan, who is running for County Supervisor in 2020.
Parmer-Lohan said during the council meeting that she wanted to bring up the issue after reading that the Covid infection rate among grocery store workers is 1 in 5.
Espinoza-Garnica, who was elected in November, said working-class residents have a disproportionate risk of contracting Covid than everyone else. She also said it’s more likely that working-class residents will have to pay more out of pocket to go to the doctor if they get Covid from work.
A Brookings Institute study says that while Costco is still paying its employee’s hazard pay, and Target raised wages, businesses such as CVS, Albertson’s (which owns Safeway and Lucky) and Walgreens stopped paying hazard pay or giving Covid-related bonuses.
The councils agreed to look at the issue, but that’s no guarantee the hazard pay will pass.
In Redwood City, Councilman Jeff Gee said he wants to make sure there are no unintended consequences as a result of the hazard pay and suggested the city only look at enforcing the hazard pay on stores owned by publicly-traded companies.
He also made it clear that he wants either city employees or council members to talk with some of the grocers and pharmacists in town to get an understanding of how the hazard pay would affect their business.
Ultimately, the Redwood City Council unanimously approved having City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz come back with an ordinance to a meeting in the next month or so.
In San Carlos, most of the council said that they wanted more information as to what businesses would be included in the ordinance.
Councilman John Dugan, who was elected in November, pointed out that grocery workers are now allowed to get Covid shots.
Dugan wondered aloud why the council had not considered hazard pay a year or nine months ago.
Dugan also asked if there is a way for the city to help get grocery workers their vaccination appointments.
“I think that could potentially be more impactful and helpful,” Dugan said.
Covid pay proposals elsewhere have resulted in lawsuits against the cities of Oakland, Montebello and Long Beach by the California Grocers Association, which claims the ordinances violate federal collective bargaining laws.
A federal judge on Feb. 25 denied the California Grocers Association’s request for a preliminary injunction against Long Beach, which would have paused the ordinance from starting.
U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II ruled that the Grocers Association failed to make a good case against the hazard pay, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Belmont last month considered hazard pay, but backed away from the idea, citing the pending litigation.