Two Northwest grocery industry trade groups are suing Seattle over the city’s new law mandating $4-an-hour pay raises for grocery stores.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges the city’s law interferes with the collective-bargaining process between grocery stores and unions and also “picks winners and losers” by singling out large grocery companies.
Seattle’s law, passed last week, went into effect Wednesday. The Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) filed their lawsuit the same day.
“Unfortunately, the council’s unprecedented ordinance, its unilateral action, and unwillingness to work with the grocery industry has left us with no other option than to file a lawsuit against the city,” Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of WFIA, said in a prepared statement.
The law applies to large grocers, those with more than 500 employees worldwide and stores larger than 10,000 square feet, in Seattle. It mandates a $4-an-hour pay boost for all workers in retail locations. And that pay boost must remain in effect for as long as Seattle remains in a declared civil emergency.
The lawsuit claims the new law is “invalid and unconstitutional” for two reasons. First, it says, it is preempted by federal law governing collective bargaining and labor practices. And, second, the lawsuit says, the law violates the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and Washington constitutions by treating large grocers differently “without providing any reasonable justification for the exclusion of other employers or frontline retail workers.”
“The Ordinance arbitrarily and improperly targets grocery store businesses in Seattle for disparate treatment while not requiring the same commitments from similarly situated businesses, or conferring any benefits on similarly situated employees,” the lawsuit says.
Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, said “We will absolutely defend the City’s right to see essential grocery workers receive the hazard pay they so rightly deserve.”
Several cities in California, including Long Beach and Berkeley, have passed similar legislation in recent weeks.
The lawsuit directs blame at the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which pushed for the law. The law passed unanimously last week, less than a week after legislation was introduced, and it went into effect almost immediately.
“[The union] sponsored this Ordinance,” the lawsuit says. “The Ordinance establishes premium pay standards that, by design or consequence, empower the UFCW or other collective bargaining units to secure a wage rate they could not otherwise have obtained from the employer at a unionized or non-union grocery store.”
Anna Minard, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 21, said they were confident the mandate is legal.
“We see this kind of employer pushback every time we pass workers-rights laws, but it’s especially unfortunate in the middle of a pandemic that these grocery employers are going to such great lengths to avoid paying workers,” Minard said.
In response to Seattle’s legislation, Trader Joe’s raised pay, temporarily, for all its employees nationwide, while at the same time canceling a much-smaller scheduled midyear raise. Kroger closed two California stores in response to similar legislation there.