Seattle grocery workers should soon be earning an additional $ 4 an hour for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, as Seattle City Council passed a law on Monday requiring large grocers to start offering hazard payments immediately.
The law, which was introduced just last week, was passed 8-0 on Monday, removing the requirement that it must be given a three-quarter super-major to go into effect immediately. Mayor Jenny Durkan described the policy as “a strong step forward in Seattle’s recovery”.
The new requirement applies to food companies with more than 500 employees worldwide and to shops with a size of more than 10,000 square meters. It does not apply to convenience stores or farmers’ markets.
Insured businesses will be required to pay their retail workers $ 4 an hour on top of the current salary paid as long as the city’s civil emergency against the coronavirus first reported in early March last year remains in effect. The legislation says the city council intends to reconsider the policy after four months, but that is non-binding.
Councilor Teresa Mosqueda, the main sponsor of the legislation, noted that the city council has been meeting remotely since March because of the pandemic and that she often orders groceries online and picks them up outside of the store. This is not possible for food workers.
“They went to work every day and we appreciate them,” said Mosqueda. “Grocery store workers are at serious risks of COVID infection. The least we can do is provide them with protective gear, access to vaccines and the city council acting today to ensure they receive a hazard payment.”
Many grocery chains, she said, initially offered hazard payment last spring, but those guidelines faded in many cases.
“Our ability to feed our families depends on food workers showing up every day,” said Councilor Tammy Morales. “Those who put themselves at the front every day should be compensated for their work.”
A parade of union officials and grocery workers testified in front of the city council on Monday in support of the pay rise, highlighting the increased risk workers have taken and the increased profits of many of their employers.
Share prices for large grocery stores like Kroger (parent company of QFC and Fred Meyer), Walmart, Amazon and Target have boomed since the pandemic began.
“At work, grocery store employees are expected to do more than ever before,” said Faye Guenther, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, which helped fuel the rise in wages. “Grocers risked their lives for all of us, they now need a risk payment.”
Tammie Hetrick, president of the Washington Food Industry Association, which represents grocers, said its members could try to limit their community work, such as working with food banks and nonprofit sponsorships.
She said grocers, who already have very low profit margins, are also staring at “huge increases” in their pandemic-aggravated unemployment taxes.
“We have to make adjustments somewhere,” said Hetrick. “I know price hikes are not where they’re going to look.”
Holly Chisa of the Northwest Grocery Association said she had not heard from the members’ grocers about the potential impact of the raise. They were just concerned about how soon it would go into effect.
“We have no lead time,” said Chisa. “At the moment they are just trying to implement a requirement that the Council gave them with very little time to prepare.”
Alicia Teel, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, said the bill was “well-intentioned” but challenged too many employers and “set a new precedent for unpredictability.”
“Urgent action should not include incomplete contact with those affected,” said Teel.
The cities of Los Angeles, Berkeley and Long Beach, California passed or approved similar “hazard pay” increases for food workers last month.
Seattle has made several efforts to increase pay for lower-wage workers, who are often far more exposed to the virus than higher-wage office workers, many of whom have switched to remote working.
Last summer, the 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 set how much food delivery services 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.