The Seattle City Council, citing the increased risk that grocery workers have faced during the coronavirus pandemic, is seeking to give them a $4 per hour pay boost for the remainder of the pandemic.
The new legislation would require large grocery stores to give the pay boost to retail workers who are covered by Seattle’s minimum wage law as long as the city remains in a civil emergency due to the pandemic. Mayor Jenny Durkan declared the pandemic an emergency on March 3 of last year. The legislation says the City Council intends to reconsider the pay boost after four months, but that is nonbinding.
It would apply to grocery companies with more than 500 employees worldwide and to stores larger than 10,000 square feet. It would not apply to convenience stores or farmers markets.
The legislation, introduced by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, would require a three-quarter supermajority in the council to take effect immediately. It passed the council’s Finance and Housing Committee 5-0 on Friday and the full council could pass or reject the ordinance as soon as Monday.
Mosqueda cited the virus’s continued growth and the slow rollout of the vaccine as reasons to mandate hazard pay nearly 11 months into the pandemic.
“The folks who are, in many cases, working and earning near minimum wage are making incredible sacrifices for us every day,” she said. “We need to be offering them hazard pay to compensate for the hazard they are putting themselves in every day.”
It’s the latest effort by the City Council to boost the pay of lower-wage essential workers who are often far more exposed to the virus than higher-wage office workers, many of whom have shifted to remote work.
Last summer, the City Council required companies like Instacart, DoorDash and Postmates to pay their delivery drivers an additional $2.50 per order during the coronavirus emergency. The city also capped how much food-delivery services can charge restaurants while indoor dining remains off-limits. In the fall, the council passed legislation ensuring that Uber and Lyft drivers are paid the city’s $16.39 minimum wage, the same as other workers. Uber promptly raised prices, and Lyft said it might follow suit.
Seattle also required all app-based delivery and transportation companies to offer their drivers paid sick days during the pandemic.
The legislation cites research published in the British Medical Journal, which found grocery workers in customer-service roles were five times more likely than their colleagues to test positive for the virus.
Maggie Breshears, a Fred Meyer employee and a board member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, said the pay increase was reasonable, given the risks workers are facing.
“I didn’t sign up to sacrifice myself in order to keep my community going during the worst public health crisis of my lifetime,” Breshears said, “but that’s what I’m doing.”
Tammie Hetrick, president of the Washington Food Industry Association; which represents grocers, wholesalers and suppliers; said it is “deeply concerned” by the legislation. She said the legislation “chooses who heroes are by singling out just one industry.”
“Our members take great pride in offering well paying jobs that provide opportunities to grow and develop within the industry. They also support the communities they serve,” Hetrick said. “This would have a great impact on their ability to compete with much larger online entities that do not have the increased costs associated with a storefront and community presence.”
The proposal has the support of Durkan, who said that many grocery stores gave hazard pay in the early days of the pandemic, but then stopped.
“Too many employees have stopped receiving this critical payment, which is why cities across the country and Seattle must implement this important proposal,” Durkan said in a prepared statement. “The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact in the lives of certain workers or communities, especially communities of color.”