San Francisco Passes Emergency Sick Pay Order for Large Businesses

A man wears a mask to protect himself from the coronavirus while running in front of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge along the Embarcadero on Sunday. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance requiring companies and nonprofits with 500 or more employees to offer emergency paid sick leave, expanding on a benefit included in the federal stimulus package signed by President Trump.

The citywide order extends the benefit to workers who weren’t covered by the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, which applies only to small and mid-sized business with fewer than 500 employees.

Supervisor Gordon Mar introduced the emergency ordinance in response to a shelter-in-place order issued by Mayor London Breed last month. While many residents began working from home, those termed “essential workers,” from food delivery and Uber drivers to drugstore and grocery store cashiers and stockers, have been reporting for duty as usual and working jobs that largely do not offer sick pay.

“Our current economic crisis shows something we have long known — economic justice and public health are inextricable. We are only as healthy as our neighbor, our grocery store clerk, our front-line essential workers. If they cannot afford to stay home when they need to, we are all worse off,” Mar said.

The ordinance passed 11-0 and will apply to all workers in San Francisco, including new hires and temporary workers.

“Even if you’re the only employee in San Francisco,” Mar said. “If you are sick and can’t work or need to take care of your kid, or you’re over 60 or have a comprised immune system, you can take paid leave.”

The order goes into effect as soon as it’s signed by Mayor London Breed.

Mar said the board will vote next week on a duplicate emergency order expanding paid leave to health care workers whose employers can opt-out of the current ordinance. 

“We didn’t want to wait to slow down this benefit for the 200,000 workers covered by the ordinance before us today,” Mar said.

Ramsés Teón-Nichols, vice president of organizing for SEIU Local 21, told Courthouse News his union is excited for the ordinance.  

“We are excited to hear that thousands more workers in San Francisco will receive access to additional paid sick leave in this crucial early phase of the pandemic,” Teón-Nichols said in an email Tuesday evening. 

His union is part of a labor and community group coalition called Jobs with Justice San Francisco, which also supports the ordinance. 

“This will give us in San Francisco, and in the larger Bay Area, a better chance to flatten the curve by giving workers the additional security they need now to take care of themselves and all of us,” Teón-Nichols said.

The City of San Jose’s city council passed a similar ordinance at its meeting Tuesday evening, after a robust discussion about whether to add a deferral giving hospital operators an extra two weeks to comply. The exemption was really aimed at Kaiser, which objected to the proposal as it’s on the cusp of finalizing negotiations that should result in employees receiving paid sick leave.

Council member Maya Esparza questioned why Kaiser should be allowed to delay.

“I’m having a hard time. At the eleventh hour – why we would provide an extra two weeks? We should not incentivizing sick hospital employees to go to work. I’m going to disagree with that point,” she said.

Mayor Sam Liccardo pressed for the deferral, noting that the proposal was drafted quickly and without much input from the city’s business community.

“I’m not going to support something that will make it more difficult for the second largest health care provider in our county to do what they’re doing. We’ve rushed this to council, unlike any other measure we’ve ever brought, with such a broad sweeping impact on employers,” he said. “What appears to be the case is that they are in the middle of negotiations for higher sick leave provisions. The last thing I want them to be doing is being concerned about complying with our ordinance when they should be concerned about saving lives.”

“I just don’t want sick people going to work. This is a huge issue,” Esparza said.

Council member Dev Davis said she had received assurances from Kaiser that any sick employees are not coming to work.

The council ultimately voted unanimously to approve the ordinance with the hospital-operater exemption.

Another thorny issue concerned gig economy workers like drivers for DoorDash, Grubhub, and Instacart, as well as Lyft and Uber drivers.

“I just want to be explicit as we can that it does include everybody because it’s a public health order,” Esparza said. “I don’t want someone coughing all over my mom’s food and then delivering it to her. That’s why we’re doing this, it’s a public health concern. We’re trying to save lives here.”

According to the San Jose City Attorney’s office, the presumption is that the ordinance will cover those companies as long as they pay a business license tax to operate in the city. The burden is on the companies to prove that drivers are independent contractors and not employees.

“The initial presumption is they are employees,” said city attorney Rick Doyle. “The hiring entities can go to court and claim they’re not, but the burden is on them.”

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