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San Francisco decides not to ban tech company cafeterias

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Ban could return in the future if labor negotiations between workers and tech companies glitch

The LinkedIn logo—a blue square with the word “in” written in white”—on the side of a high-rise building with a black glass facade. Via Shutterstock

Supervisor Ahsha Safai made a surprise move on Tuesday to chuck his own, long-planned new law curtailing company cafeterias, just as it would have come to a vote at the full Board of Supervisors.

Safai says that the city’s labor landscape has changed since 2018, and the proposed regulation may not be necessary now.

Speaking at Tuesday’s board meeting, Safai said that he introduced the cafeteria ban partly out of concern over labor conditions at billion-dollar tech companies.

“We felt that the condition and the treatment of the labor force [...] was not appropriate, we felt that conversation needed to be had,” the District 11 rep said.

The city lawmaker also said he and other board members “were worried about the impact on surrounding neighborhoods and small businesses,” which might lose business if office workers are eating at their desks or in-house facilities.

After more than a year of negotiations, the ban unanimously passed the three-person Land Use & Transportation Committee—of which Safai is a member—in July, right before the board took the month of August off.

Instead of bringing the measure to the full board for a vote on Tuesday, Safai said that negotiations with labor leaders and major tech companies like Google, Dropbox, and Twitter now mean that more workers at offices will be able to form unions more easily, and as such he feels there’s no longer a pressing need to spike new cafeterias.

Since some private agreements are not finalized yet, Safai sent the measure back to committee, where it could be resurrected again in the future. But his tone on Tuesday was one of finality.

As originally written, the measure called for “amending the Planning Code to prohibit require a conditional use authorization for employee cafeterias.”

Later negotiations amended that to a softer rule “requiring a conditional use permit for employee cafeterias.”

The text of the measure cited a similar prohibition in Mountain View years ago:

In 2014, the city of Mountain View passed a rule requiring that any future office tenant would be barred from providing free daily meals or subsidizing more than half the price at any on-site, in-house cafeteria during the approval of the Merlone Geier’s Phase II development. The Village at the San Antonio Center. And, once Facebook moved there, the rule was enforced as a way to better integrate the company into the local community, and also to protect the surrounding mom-and-pop restaurants.

Safai and supporters also cited a 2018 study by the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development titled “State of the Retail Sector,” which expressed fears that “the end of lunch” might hurt SF’s dining and commercial outlets:

White collar workers are taking shorter lunch breaks, eating lunch at their desk, or eating in corporate cafeterias. This particularly affects restaurants that relyheavily on lunch trade, for example in San Francisco’s Financial District. To the extent thatlunch traffic made up a smaller share of their revenues to begin with, restaurants in the NCDs may be somewhat less affected.

Safai first introduced the potential ban in July of 2018, with cosponsor Aaron Peskin. Peskin said that it was a move to avoid what he called “the Amazon effect” in San Francisco neighborhoods with significant tech presence.