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Grocery associations file lawsuit against Seattle to stop hazard pay

Clark resident Jen Valencia shops for a customer as she supplements her income working for Instacart at Acme Market on April 27, 2020 in Clark, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

On the same day an extra hazard pay for grocery employees took effect in Seattle, grocery associations filed a lawsuit against the city.

The new ordinance mandates an extra $4 an hour for many workers in grocery chains and bigger stores, and was expected to remain in place for at least four months. It does not impact convenience stores or food marts selling a limited line of goods.

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The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA), asks the court to declare the new ordinance void and to grant a preliminary and permanent injunction against enforcement of the ordinance.

Both grocery associations say the ordinance does not consider existing union agreements, and is unfair because other essential workers in Seattle are not getting the extra pay.

WFIA CEO Tammy Hetrick told KIRO Radio that city supermarkets also just can’t afford it.

“The council did not consult with us at all on this. Had they asked, we would have told them that most of our stores in Seattle have seen decreased sales and profits for 2020,” Hetrick said. “Many of them are losing money every day they’re open.”

“So many of our stores are already losing money and each grocer will have to evaluate their specific circumstance, and then really determine will it be higher prices? Will it be reduced hours, hiring freezes, or store closures?,” she said.

Hetrick explained that the lawsuit was filed because the city ordinance is “unfair and it’s illegal.”

“It’s creating winners and loses among the citizens, and it identifies essential workers as some more essential than others,” she said.

The lawsuit alleges that the ordinance is illegal in two ways. First, the associations say, by singling out certain grocers and ignoring other groups that employ essential frontline workers, it “violates the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution’s Equal Protection Clauses.” Second, the ordinance is preempted by the federal National Labor Relations Act, “which protects the integrity of the collective bargaining process.”

“The City Council has inserted itself into the collective-bargaining process, which it has no legal right to do,” the associations explain.

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Additionally, Hetrick says the new law doesn’t make workers safer as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our workers and our customers, and this ordinance does nothing to improve that,” she said.

“If the city really was concerned about the safety, they would give us the support that we need to convince the governor to expedite vaccinations for essential workers,” she added. “Instead, they’re just requiring a $4 an hour increase, which doesn’t do anything to help with safety.”

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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