Earning more pay?
Assistant Harbormaster Dante Madrigal rolls a fish cart through Pillar Point Harbor. Employees there are asking the San Mateo County Harbor District to consider hazard pay to compensate them for working through the risk of COVID-19. Adam Pardee / Review

The San Mateo County Harbor District is considering authorizing hazard pay for essential workers within the district. Doing so would recognize the unusual threats facing workers in the midst of a pandemic but also strain the public budget.

Earlier this summer, the district received a formal request from labor union Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3 to provide hazard pay for all harbor patrol workers at both Pillar Point Harbor and Oyster Point marinas. Even while the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and the state issued shelter-in-place orders, harbor patrols at both marinas continued to provide services.

Though the federal government rushed to provide relief checks to all families that qualified and added an extra $600 a week to unemployment benefits, there has been no federal aid for people continuing to work during the ongoing public health crisis. As a result, in many circumstances, the jobless are earning more than essential workers who are risking their lives while staying on the clock.

In April, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved certain conditions for the county’s essential workers. Those required to report to the workplace are able to receive “leave hours” to use at a later time. Employees can accrue 30 minutes of “leave hours” for every hour of reular work or overtime worked on site, up to a maximum of 200 hours. The policy was adopted to extend through the end of the county’s shelter-in-place order. The estimated cost for the county for the policy is $7.3 million.

If the Harbor District were to consider implementing a similar system for its essential workers, providing up to 200 additional hours in hazard pay for each harbor patrol worker, it would cost approximately $234,000.

The discussion of hazard pay for essential workers at the Harbor District was removed from the Harbor Commission’s July 15 meeting at the last minute. General Manager Jim Pruett said it was removed “based on logistical purposes.” He said the board will reconsider this item at a later date but did not say when.

Regardless, the district recommends denying the request from the labor union based on a “lack of available budget resources,” according to the staff report. The funding for the hazard pay would take away available money for capital improvement projects.

If the district denies hazard pay for its essential workers it would join many other employers doing the same. Just less than a third of people who have had to continue to work outside the home have received additional pay or benefits, according to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute.

Other local government agencies that have authorized some form of hazard pay include Alameda County and city of San Francisco. The next regularly scheduled Harbor District Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for Aug. 19.

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