Target can’t seem to catch a break. News broke in late July that the Minnesota-based retail giant donated $150,000 to a political organization with an anti-LGBT history (and that a few weeks after it was announced Target was looking at moving into SF on Masonic Avenue).
Now, the store chain is at risk of losing a — albeit small-time — contract with the City and County of San Francisco because Target doesn’t comply with S.F.’s Equal Benefits Ordinance, a law that requires contractors and companies doing business with or within the city to provide the same benefits to same-sex partners of employees as it does to opposite-sex spouses.
Both Target and Safeway have asked the city to waive the Equal Benefits requirement in order to open contracts to provide food, clothes and medicine to the Trauma Recovery Center at San Francisco General Hospital, according to David Curto, director of contracts at the Department of Human Services.
Victims of “abuse and neglect” — in this case, mostly children — “often come into the Trauma Center in the middle of the night, with no clothing other than what they’re wearing,” Curto said.
The city uses non-compliant Safeway because it’s the only place where formula, diapers, prescription drugs and other necessities can be found 24/7, Curto said. Likewise, the city provides coats, shoes and bedding for people in need via the contract with Target.
In the past, city employees have had to buy necessities on their own dimes and then invoice the city for reimbursement, but these contracts would bypass that, Curto said.
Not so fast, said Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks, whose office oversees all so-called 12B waivers (so named for the section of the Administrative Code which guarantees Equal Benefits). The HRC tentatively approved Safeway’s waiver for its $90,000, three-year contract — it is, after all, the only 24-hour food store and pharmacy near SF General — but has put the brakes, at least temporarily, on Target’s waiver request for its $75,000, three-year contract.
Typically, waivers are only granted to contractors or companies who provide a service no other entity can provide, Sparks said, like an engineering firm that has a patent on a turbine, or a Canadian software company with sole rights to the computer program that controls the doors at the County Jail (both real examples).
“We don’t just give these waivers out indiscriminately,” she told the Appeal on Tuesday evening. “The whole concept of a domestic partner started in San Francisco. This is a very important process, and we protect it at all costs.”
Before Target’s waiver is granted, the Human Rights Commission wants to be sure that a compliant vendor can’t be found, Sparks said. Should Target wish to open a store in San Francisco — a location at the Metreon as well as the Geary/Masonic site has been rumored — Sparks will push hard to require the company to provide equal benefits to its employees, she said.
“I can almost assure you of that,” she said.
It will be some time before Target’s waiver request is re-examined: the HRC is woefully understaffed, according to Sparks, and delays of up to four months for a matter to be heard is not uncommon.
That’s too bad, according to Curto. Target was to be used because it was the best available vendor, he said, and the delay doesn’t help anybody.
In a perfect world, perhaps every company nationwide would comply with the Equal Benefits Ordinance. But that would mean changing health care benefits and pension plans for countless employees across the country, something that is “not practical,” he said.
“If someone has a better system [to use],” he said, “we’d love to hear about it.”