Union seeks hazard pay for grocery store workers across Western Washington

SEATTLE — Though grocery store workers are receiving additional hazard pay in Seattle and Burien, their union wants all grocery store workers across Western Washington to get that pay as well.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union 21 held a news conference Tuesday morning announcing a campaign to make that happen.

The union said while grocery stores provided hazard pay to workers for a few months during the start of the pandemic, it was cut in May. Since then, grocery stores have refused to reinstate it, though workers have “more tasks, stress, challenges, profits, and as if there weren’t a risk of getting a deadly virus,” the union said in a news release.

“Every day we’re going to work and risking our lives, risking our health for very little pay or protection,” said Alycia, a clerk at a Kirkland QFC.

In addition, UFCW 21 said grocery store workers were deemed essential employees more than a year ago and they are being paid as if there is no pandemic at all, while large national grocery store chains have pocketed more than an additional billion dollars in profit.

“These companies have recorded record profits off our risks,” said Bainbridge Safeway worker Sue Wilmot.

Earlier this month, the Seattle City Council instituted an additional $4 an hour for those frontline workers. Nearby in Burien, grocery workers are receiving even more at $5 an hour.

Meanwhile, the King County Council is discussing doing the same.

“It’s fair to say there’s lots of workers talking to their local city council members,” said UFCW 21 Chief of Staff Sarah Cherin.

The Bainbridge Island City Council is currently debating such an ordinance.

“I’m in a little box and can’t control who comes in that door - whether they’re wearing a mask or not,” said Wilmot.

After Seattle mandated hazard pay to grocery store workers in the city, Kroger recently announced plans to close two QFC stores in Seattle.

Representatives from the company said:

“We actually had plans in place to help these two struggling stores, but the city council mandate prohibits any cutting of hours or making changes at the stores. Our hands were tied. The city made it impossible to survive.”

UFCW 21 says it won’t be lobbying a specific party to bring about the change. The union believes both Democrats and Republicans in local government can see the benefits of hazard pay.

“Kroger and Safeway and all these companies need to do the right thing,” said Alycia. “My worry is that if they don’t, more of us will die.”