New laws for businesses in 2007 

The new year means new laws for businesses in San Francisco and throughout California, from legally required minimum-wage increases to a series of industry-specific laws that regulate business activities.

Starting today, businesses throughout California are required by a state law put forward by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, to pay a minimum of $7.50 an hour, up from $6.75. The law, AB 1835, was seen as a compromise between business interests and minimum wage advocates, who wanted but were not able to tie future wage minimums to increases in cost-of-living expenses.

Locally, the law affects Peninsula businesses, but San Francisco operations have a higher bar to meet.

Employers in The City need to start paying $9.14 an hour — up from $8.82 — per a city ordinance passed in 2003, according to Rich Waller of the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. San Francisco does have what state proponents were pushing for, an automatic escalator tied to the consumer price index.

"It affects us a lot," said Alex Lee, manager of the Jasmine Tea House on San Francisco’s Mission Street. "It will cost us a lot … [but] it’s the law. It’s very difficult for small businesses."

The restaurant industry as a whole is concerned about several other San Francisco laws set to go into effect this year, though they affect all businesses.

In November, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association sued The City to oppose the mandated employer contributions to San Francisco’s Health Care Security Ordinance. The law requires businesses with 20 or more employees to contribute $1.06 an hour to employee health care starting in 2008, or $1.60 an hour for businesses with 100 or more employees starting this year.

San Francisco entrepreneurs also must comply with a voter proposition that requires businesses with 10 or fewer workers to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave a year to employees. Larger companies must guarantee up to 72 hours. The employers do not need to pay for unused time when a worker leaves the company. The law goes into effect Feb. 5.

And restaurateurs in The City face another sweeping measure: they must eliminate Styrofoam and similar foam plastic take-out containers by June. Lee said he believes it is likely to cost his restaurant more, but he has not yet done the math.

Looking at the wide array of new and sweeping laws, restaurateur Joe Conte of Chow and Park Chow restaurants in San Francisco said he does not oppose minimum wage increases, which he thinks may benefit his particular

business.

"What we’ve found with the minimum wage is that it’s just causing inflation in the industry," Conte said.

"The automatic reaction of other restaurants is to raise prices … but we try real hard to keep prices low," so diners may eschew other restaurants for his, he said.

He also said increased wages may attract more professional people to restaurant work. But, he added, he feels bad for other businesses operating at already-tight margins, and has some criticisms about implementation of the health benefit and sick leave laws, which Waller said remain unclear even to city staff members.

"These laws aren’t well-thought out in terms of details. As businesses try to implement them, there’s a lot of confusion," Conte said. "Before, I had a 50 percent benefit for part-time employees. [Now] I’m unsure of what to do."

As opposed to The City, San Mateo County communities did not seem to enact any specific business-impacting laws that launch in 2007, municipal officials and business leaders said.

But there are a slew of state and federal laws that affect many different industries, from a law allowing employers and unions in the entertainment industry to negotiate final paycheck conditions, to one allowing immediate suspension of an aesthetician’s license to protect the public health, which followed the 2004 foot-spa infections

scandal.

"They should put a measure on these salons … that don’t sanitize," said Jennifer Leung of The City’s Lavande Nail Salon, who said unclean pedicurists create a bad image for all nail shops. "I really do support this kind of measure."

» SB 1759: Requires background checks for certain administrators, executives and employees in the health care industry.

» AB 881: Requires roofing contractors to have workers’ compensation insurance regardless of whether they have current employees.

» AB 2095: Limits mandated sexual harassment training to supervisors located in California.

» SB 1436: Requires state agencies to improve their communication with the business community, particularly small business.

» AB 2440: Penalizes an employer that helps employees or contractors dodge child support payments.

» AB 2613: Creates conditions for a state overtime exemption for private-school teachers.

» AB 2292: Allows workers’ compensation death benefits to go to the estate of the deceased worker, rather than the state, if there is no dependent but there is an heir.

— Source: California Chamber of Commerce

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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