The Seattle City Council this week unanimously approved emergency legislation to require grocers to pay $4 an hour in additional hazard pay to certain grocery store workers. Concerned that grocery workers risk exposure to the Covid-19 virus, the Council approved the ordinance by an 8-0 vote, with Councilmember Debora Juarez absent.
While groups opposing the ordinance urged the Council to focus on making the Covid vaccine available to grocery workers, Mayor Jenny Durkan called the policy “a strong step forward in Seattle’s recovery.”
Washington Retail sent a letter to the Council urging it to amend the ordinance to address specific concerns. The letter pointed out that the legislation calls for the extra pay to continue up to three years after officials declare an end to the city’s pandemic emergency. This hazard pay is hard to justify after the pandemic has passed. The WR letter also noted that the ordinance requires hazard pay to begin as soon as the ordinance is signed into law. WR urged the Council to give grocers time to adjust their payrolls to include the hazard pay.
The ordinance applies to grocery stores larger than 10,000 square feet, as well as other retailers larger than 85,000 square feet with 30% or more of the sales floor dedicated to grocery food items. It exempts convenience stores with limited grocery lines or farmers’ markets.
The legislation prohibits employers from reducing an employee’s pay in response to the hazard pay requirement. It also creates a private right of action for employees to sue for alleged violations of the ordinance.
“Grocery store workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, interacting with many customers each day in hazardous conditions to ensure Seattle residents can put food on the table,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, the prime sponsor of the legislation. “Grocery workers are also experiencing extreme hardships during the COVID economic downfall, losing housing, childcare and more.”