A federal judge has dismissed a food industry lawsuit seeking to block Seattle’s new law to grant grocery store workers $ 4 hourly increases for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
The law applies to large grocery stores with more than 500 employees worldwide and stores covering 10,000 square feet in Seattle. It provides a $ 4 hourly pay increase for all workers in retail locations. And that raise must remain in effect as long as Seattle is in a declared civil emergency.
The city council unanimously passed the wage increase bill in late January after being endorsed by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21.
“Given the city’s findings that major food companies made record profits during COVID-19 … and that grocery store workers are at a significantly increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” wrote US District Judge John C. Coughenour: “This is a reasonable reason for the distinctions made in the regulation.”
“This is a huge win for grocery store workers who have been critical and vulnerable frontline workers since the pandemic began,” Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes, whose office defended the law, said in a prepared statement.
The lawsuit, filed in Seattle’s US District Court, alleged that city law disrupted the collective bargaining process between grocery stores and unions, and also “selects winners and losers” by singling out large food companies.
The law, which the food industry wrote in court records, “contains no provisions relating to the health or safety of employees” and was enacted under “purely political justification” following lobbying by the UFCW.
“The City of Seattle has issued an ordinance serving the discreet interests of a small group at the expense of other grocers, other key workers, and other Seattle residents,” wrote lawyers for the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association.
Holmes countered that the law falls under the city’s remit to protect workers and regulate business.
“For more than eight decades, the country’s indisputable law has enabled the local population
Governments must impose minimum compensation requirements on companies, ”Holmes wrote in court records. The food industry lawsuit urges “this court to return to the nineteenth century and increase its private labor acquisition arrangements for public health, safety and welfare”.
Other cities, primarily along the west coast, including Los Angeles, Berkeley and Long Beach, California, recently passed on or approved similar “hazard pay” increases for food workers.
In response to Seattle law, Trader Joe’s temporarily granted all employees across the country $ 4 an hour while canceling a previously planned, much smaller permanent increase. QFC announced the closure of two Seattle stores, partly blaming the new law despite recognizing that the stores were underperforming.
Seattle has made several efforts to increase the pay of lower-wage workers, who are often far more exposed to the virus than higher-paid office workers, many of whom have switched to remote working.
Last summer, city council asked companies like Instacart, DoorDash and Postmates to pay their delivery drivers an additional $ 2.50 per order during the coronavirus emergency. The city has also limited how much food delivery restaurants can charge while eating indoors remains banned. In the fall, the council passed laws ensuring that Uber and Lyft drivers receive the city’s minimum wage of $ 16.39, just like other workers. Uber promptly raised prices, and Lyft said it could follow.
In Seattle, all app-based delivery and transport companies had to offer their drivers paid sick days during the pandemic.