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Seattle introduces legislation to give hazard pay to grocery store employees

Workers re-stock items at Northgate Gonzalez Market, a Hispanic specialty supermarket, on March 19, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Grocery store workers in Seattle could soon see a boost in pay to recognize the risks they’re facing as essential workers during the pandemic.

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Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, chair of the Finance and Housing Committee, introduced legislation Friday that would require grocery employees in Seattle to receive hazard pay of $4 per hour during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency.

“Grocery store workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, interacting with many customers each day in hazardous conditions to ensure Seattle residents can put food on the table,” Mosqueda said. “Grocery workers are also experiencing extreme hardships during the COVID economic downfall, losing housing, childcare and more. It’s also not lost on me that the dangers of working in grocery stores during the pandemic are felt especially by our BIPOC communities, as employees of color are overrepresented in the retail frontline workforce and those communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

A study of just over one hundred grocery store employees in Boston, Mass., found that 20% tested positive for COVID-19, despite high mask usage. The employees also reported high levels of emotional and mental health stress.

The proposed legislation in Seattle would not impact convenience stores or food marts selling a limited line of goods.

Once enacted, the hazard pay would be in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, though the council may reconsider the legislation at the four month mark. That timeframe matches with the Washington State Department of Health’s vaccination plan, as all grocery employees are expected to be eligible for the vaccine by April 2021.

According to the release from the council, several other U.S. cities have announced legislative efforts to require hazard pay for grocery store workers, with more expected to follow suit. This also follows the Seattle City Council’s enactment of premium pay for frontline gig workers during the pandemic.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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