BURIEN, Wash. — Burien has joined Seattle in implementing mandatory hazard pay for employees of large grocery stores. The new ordinance went into effect Wednesday.
The Seattle City Council recently approved an additional $4 per hour hazard pay. Burien approved an extra $5 per hour hazard pay for major retailers within city limits, such as Fred Meyer, PCC and Safeway.
Grocery workers union UFCW Local 21 lobbied for the bill in Burien and the similar bill in Seattle.
“This is a particular industry and business that has profited because of the pandemic. Not just during the pandemic, but because of it,” said union spokesperson Tom Gieger. “Restaurants have closed. People are home more. Kids are home from school. So often, people are spending two or three times as much on the grocery bill."
The Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association filed a lawsuit against the city of Burien, challenging the mandatory hazard pay ordinance. The lawsuit alleges that the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution by singling out some grocers and ignoring other groups of frontline workers. The lawsuit also alleges the ordinance interferes with collective-bargaining agreements.
On Tuesday, QFC and parent company Kroger announced the closure of two Seattle stores, saying the decision was accelerated by the new hazard pay.
“Everything is tense, everything. Every day, you don’t know if it’s the day you are going to get infected and bringing it home to your loved ones and it’s just, like, frightful. It’s not a very good place to be,” said a female employee of an impacted QFC store, under the conditions of anonymity.
She continued, “For me, it just feels like it's just the way it’s always been. Corporations are just more important than their employees and we’ve seen them demonstrate that to us."
A QFC spokesperson said the stores were already underperforming and that this new hazard pay legislation was the deciding factor.
“This was a 22 percent increase in operating costs and those two stores were already operating in the red, so it just was a decision we had to make, unfortunately,” said QFC spokesperson Tiffany Sanders.
As for Burien, the new legislation applies to stores with more than 250 employees company-wide. The new hazard pay requirement will stay in play as long as Gov. Inslee’s state of emergency declaration is in effect.