Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, in one of her last official acts before leaving office, will veto City Council legislation that would have repealed the $4 an hour hazard pay boost for grocery workers that has been in place for nearly a year, she said Wednesday.
The Seattle City Council voted 8-0 in January to approve the mandatory hazard pay for the duration of the pandemic.
The City Council voted 8-0 last week to repeal the hazard pay requirement.
Durkan, in announcing her coming veto, cited the rise of the omicron variant and rising infection numbers.
“Now is not the time to roll back the pay for these critical front-line workers,” Durkan said in a prepared statement. “In a time that there are no good choices, there are decisions we can make to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our residents, and hazard pay is one of the key city policies that have supported workers who have supported all of us.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, normally an unrelenting Durkan critic, praised the veto while criticizing her council colleagues.
Sawant was absent from last week’s vote to repeal the hazard pay ordinance. She called that vote a “capitulation” by “self-described progressive Democrats in the interests of big business.”
The City Council initially passed the hazard pay legislation, with Durkan’s support, after advocacy from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21. It withstood a lawsuit from the grocery industry.
Other cities, mostly along the West Coast, including Burien, Los Angeles, Berkeley and Long Beach, California, also approved similar hazard pay boosts for grocery workers.
King County followed suit, passing mandatory $4-an-hour raises for grocery workers in unincorporated areas.
Trader Joe’s responded to the Seattle law by giving temporary raises to all its employees nationwide, but also by canceling the permanent midyear pay raises that it typically gives out.
QFC, owned by the grocery giant Kroger, blamed the hazard pay requirement for its decision to close two underperforming Seattle stores last spring. After the City Council announced the repeal of hazard pay, QFC said it had no plans to reopen the stores.
Amanda Dalton, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, which unsuccessfully sued to block the law, was “extremely frustrated” by Durkan’s veto.
“We understand the Mayor and Council’s concern with new variants, however this arbitrary wage mandate for only a small subset of food retailers no longer makes sense when all of Seattle is open,” Dalton said in a prepared statement. “We should all be focusing on vaccinations and boosters, not penalizing a small sector of the food industry.”
Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association, said the costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
“It’s important to note that all businesses are open in Seattle,” Hetrick said. “People have returned to attending sporting events, concerts, church events and other large public gatherings. Grocery stores should not be singled out and repeatedly penalized.”
Before the vote to repeal the legislation last week, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored both the initial hazard pay ordinance and the repeal, said it was always intended to be temporary, “before vaccinations would be widely available.
“This legislation was not intended to be permanent wage replacement, which of course I support,” Mosqueda said. “We noted our intent was to consider modifying or repeal after four months.”
She said that Seattle’s hazard pay has been in effect more than twice as long as many California cities that passed similar legislation.
With eight votes previously in favor of the repeal, the City Council would, in theory, have enough votes to override Durkan’s veto if they chose. That does not seem likely.
On Wednesday, Mosqueda said she supports Durkan’s veto, given the rapid spread of the omicron variant and new warnings and guidance from public health officials.
“It’s not exactly like the mayor is standing on a higher moral ground here; she’s looking at the same data all of us are,” Mosqueda said. She said she would not favor overriding the veto.
“We are now seeing the effects the omicron variant will have on our population’s health and the elevated risk grocery store workers will face in the months ahead,” she said. “It’s with these new developments that hazard pay will remain in place.”
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who supported the repeal last week, also said she supports Durkan’s veto.
“Public health is the No. 1 priority,” Herbold said in a prepared statement. “And as we continue to get updated advice from Public Health officials we should react quickly to protect the health and safety of our constituents.”