Workers at San Francisco International Airport — including police and firefighters — turn out to not be eligible for the emergency sick leave that San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved last year. Photo by Michael Ocampo, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Last June, nearly two-thirds of San Francisco voters approved Prop. G, which mandated that city employers with 100 or more workers provide emergency sick leave during a public health emergency. 

With such a requirement in place, a San Francisco worker can stay at home and recover from Covid-19, or care for a family member, without burning all of their sick days. 

The ordinance is aimed primarily at private employers, but it also mandates that city of San Francisco provide emergency leave for its tens of thousands of workers. But hundreds of city employees — and thousands of teachers at City College, San Francisco State and the San Francisco Unified School District — have been flabbergasted to learn that this protection does not apply to them. In the event of a covid emergency, they may be forced to burn through their sick days, the very scenario this ordinance sought to prevent.  

At issue are two specific carve-outs in the law. One notes that the term employer “shall include the City, but shall not include any government entity other than the city.” That excludes public-school workers and federal and state employees, including the tens of thousands of workers at UCSF. 

The other specification requires employees to work “within the geographic boundaries of the city.” This excludes hundreds of San Francisco employees, such as Sheriff’s Department jail guards in San Bruno, San Francisco police officers at the Airport Bureau, airport firefighters, and Public Utilities Commission employees working on Hetch Hetchy and throughout Northern California. 

While these carve-outs were not unintentional — this was not a drafting error — affected employees are only now learning that they will no longer receive covid emergency leave. 

“We are writing to inform you that California’s COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave policy expired on Dec. 31, 2022. SFUSD is honoring a grace period to ensure that employees can access claims to their COVID Sick Leave. Employees have until Feb. 15 to claim COVID Sick Leave,” reads a letter sent to every San Francisco public school educator on Feb. 6. 

“As of Feb. 16, employees will no longer be able to use COVID Sick Leave and should use regular Sick Leave instead. Please note that there is no pay-out option for COVID Sick Leave.”

Police Officers Association president Tracy McCray and Deputy Sheriffs Association president Ken Lomba have been publicly sparring over whose department should cover SFO. Both union presidents were in lockstep, however, in saying that the city gave their workers a raw deal here. 

“Whether you’re a police officer or firefighter keeping our airport safe, or a custodian keeping it clean, all of these employees are serving San Francisco’s residents, businesses, and visitors and should have access to the same benefits to care for themselves and their families,” wrote McCray. “It’s unfortunate that so many public servants, who are City employees, were left out by this ordinance.”

Adds Lomba, “This is unfair and does not align with city values. This was to help workers out. And look what happened? They isolated some.” 

Proposition G was placed onto the ballot by former Supervisor Gordon Mar. When asked if these carve-outs were intentional, he said they were. 

“This was drafted by the City Attorney’s office,” he noted. Both the geographic issues and the lack of coverage of other governmental employees are due to the limitations of what San Francisco can impose, Mar said. 

“The ordinance is an exercise of the City’s police powers, which is why it applies to employees within the geographical bounds of San Francisco,” explained City Attorney spokeswoman Jen Kwart.

“With regard to government employees not employed by the City, we are generally pre-empted from applying these types of laws to state and federal government employees.”

While guards at detention facilities located within San Francisco proper are eligible for emergency health leave, those working in County Jail 3 in San Bruno are not.

Patrick Mulligan, the director of the city’s Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement, said he sympathized with confused city employees. But the city is unable to impose certain conditions on public-sector workers working out-of-town, just as it is unable to impose certain conditions on out-of-town private-sector workers (private workers at SFO are also not touched by the ordinance, as are private-sector workers at the Presidio or Fort Mason). 

“Any of our laws that also apply to private employers — minimum wage, healthcare security — only apply within the jurisdiction of the boundaries of the City and County of San Francisco,” explains Mulligan. “We don’t have legal standing … that we can enforce our labor laws outside the city and county.” 

The Department of Human Resources buttressed Mulligan’s explanation: “The ordinance written and passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2022 only applies to employees domiciled within the geographic boundaries of San Francisco. The Board has no regulatory authority outside this boundary.”

Regardless of the nuance and the nitty-gritty, affected city workers are disappointed and frustrated. 

“If workers catch something contagious, they should have the ability to care for themselves or their families,” said Lomba. “San Francisco is providing this for workers in the city, but not for workers on city property outside of San Francisco. And there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to fix this.” 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. It should not generalize the Covid pay to everybody, If someone showed signs and symptoms related to Covid , they should still pay them the benefit and not used ai l time, nobody wants to get sick of Covid right.So why stop paying the Covid pay ,just because they want to open the business to public again

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  2. SFO is on unincorporated land in San Mateo County which is 100% owned and operated by the City and County of San Francisco, which also provides SFO’s police force and fire department. SFO is as much a part of the “geographic boundary” of the City as Yerba Buena Island. The Farallon Islands are also technically part of the City. There’s nothing in the statute which says that it has to be in the 7×7.

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  3. More “essential workers” left to fend for themselves. Another in a long line of examples of how little city (state and national) officials prioritize public health. That the covid pandemic has not resulted in focused efforts to remedy the grotesque systemic problems revealed in 2020 and 2021 should be profoundly disturbing.

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    1. Lou — 

      Officers working in San Francisco are covered. Officers working at SFO are not.


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  4. Hi. I’m a teacher in SFUSD. I just contracted Covid for the first time and I feel so lucky to have it before our Covid sick time expires! As a teacher new tk the district I would have had to take unpaid leave for something I contracted most likely as a result of my employment! I hope this gets extended.

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