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King County looks to expand hazard pay for grocery store workers

Grocery workers in unincorporated King County could soon be getting hazard pay. (Getty Images)

King County Councilmembers introduced legislation this week to give grocery store workers in unincorporated areas of the county an additional $4 an hour in “hazard pay.”

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This comes after similar measures were enacted in both Seattle and Burien, handing out an additional $4 and $5 an hour, respectively, to grocery workers at large stores. Seattle’s measure encompasses stores with 500 or more employees, while Burien’s minimum is set at 250 employees.

The intent for this latest effort is to have the hazard pay for grocery stores in unincorporated King County be in effect until the countywide state of emergency brought on by the pandemic ends.

Proponents of the ordinance have pointed to the need to compensate employees working on the front lines of the pandemic who have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“These extraordinary times call for governments like King County to respond with extraordinary help,” said the latest measure’s primary sponsor, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski. “I am proud to stand with these frontline workers and ensure that the risks they and their families are taking, and the dedication they are showing, is reflected in our laws, and in their paychecks.

Dembowski calls the extra $4 an hour “a small price to pay” to ensure the safety of grocery workers in unincorporated King County, while fellow councilmember and co-sponsor Dave Upthegrove notes that grocery stores have seen sizable increases in revenue over the course of the pandemic.

According to one report released by the Brookings Institute in December, supermarket chains like Costco, Kroger, and Walmart saw their profits increase by an average of 39% over the first half of 2020.

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“At a time when local governments are struggling to fund basic services, large grocery sites are making record profits while their low-wage employees face the hazards of working during a pandemic,” Upthegrove said.

Opponents, though, claim that hazard pay imposes added costs that smaller grocery stores may not be able to afford.

“It’s a huge concern,” Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) CEO Tammie Hetrick told KTTH’s Jason Rantz.

Both the WFIA and the Northwest Grocery Association signed on to a federal lawsuit filed against Seattle last week challenging the city’s hazard pay ordinance.

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