Additional hazard pay for Seattle grocery workers could soon be law

SEATTLE — City leaders take a step toward requiring hazard pay for grocery store workers. But critics say the city is unfairly singling out one type of business.

The Seattle City council is considering forcing grocery stores to pay their front-line workers an extra $4 an hour in hazard pay.

A lot of these grocery companies stepped up and gave their workers hazard pay early in this pandemic. But for the most part, that extra hazard pay ended last summer.

And since then the pandemic has gotten even worse.

Grocery workers say they would like compensation for continuing to put themselves and their families at risk.

By the looks of it, grocery stores have undergone radical changes to stay open during COVID-19.

And for a while, one of those less visible changes included extra pay for many of their front-line workers.

“And then the employers took it away last summer,” said Joe Mizrahi, of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 121. “And folks have been fighting to get it back.”

Mizrahi says the employees’ cries to reinstate hazard pay have fallen on deaf ears.

“And that’s despite the fact that the pandemic has persisted,” said Mizrahi.

Into the breach stepped Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. She introduced legislation that would require large grocery stores to pay their workers $4 more an hour in hazard pay.

The proposal is getting pushback from local grocers.

“The ordinance doesn’t cover other businesses that also expect to remain open like drug stores,” argued Holly Chisa of the Northwest Grocery Association, “or public employees checking on our open businesses to make sure we are compliant with safety practices.”

But workers told the council’s Finance and Housing Committee, which Mosqueda chairs, the danger still exists.

“I have experienced the devastating chaos of this pandemic first-hand last December,” said James, a Metropolitan Market worker, “when I contracted COVID-19 and had to use my vacation and sick pay to cover the time that I missed.”

Still some say they aren’t sure grocery workers are entitled to extra pay.

“I mean we’re all exposed to the virus at some level through the work we do,” said Laurie Leland, Seattle. “I’m not getting extra pay for that. I just practice good pandemic behavior. I don’t know I could fully get behind it. I’d have to know more about it.”

Late Friday, the bill passed the Finance and Housing Committee unanimously.

It now goes to the full Seattle City Council Monday. It will likely pass there. Mayor Jenny Durkan has already given her full throated endorsement.