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QFC to close two Seattle locations, blames city’s grocery worker hazard pay ordinance

(KIRO Radio, Matt Pitman)

QFC announced Tuesday that it will be closing a pair of Seattle locations, blaming a recently-passed hazard pay ordinance that gives grocery workers an added $4 an hour for the duration of the pandemic.

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QFC, which owns and operates over 60 locations spread out across the Puget Sound region, will be shutting down two stores — one located in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood, and the second on Capitol Hill — on April 24.

The chain cited “razor slim profit margins” brought on the hazard pay, combined with its existing compensation packages to employees and added costs of pandemic safety measures, while criticizing city leaders for singling out the grocery industry.

“Unfortunately, the irreparable harm that will come to workers and our Seattle community is a direct result of the City’s attempt to pick winners and losers among essential businesses and workers,” the company said in a news release, pointing to a study that warns grocery stores would have to raise prices for consumers in order to cover the cost of hazard pay for employees.

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Supporters of hazard pay for grocery workers, though, have pointed to sizable revenues large grocery chains have pulled in over the course of the pandemic.

According to one report released by the Brookings Institute, large grocery and retail chains like Costco, QFC’s parent company Kroger, and Walmart saw their profits increase by a combined $17.7 billion over the first three quarters of 2020 compared to that same period from the year prior. The report further found that those same companies used a portion of those added profits for stock buybacks and executive bonuses.

Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda levied criticism against QFC’s decision as well, labeling it “beyond disappointing.”

“It’s harmful to our public health and retaliatory that Kroger decided to announce the closure of their stores (including one store that was already slated for redevelopment,” she said in a written release.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) similarly spoke out against the move, calling it “an appalling attempt to threaten improved store safety and hazard pay for essential workers.”

“Kroger has literally made billions in pandemic profits off the sacrifices of grocery workers in Seattle and across the country,” it noted. “Kroger’s action today not only threatens these workers, but it also threatens the local food supply. Instead of doing what is right, protecting the community and providing the hazard pay for these essential grocery workers, Kroger is once again trying to intimidate local and national elected leaders. It will not work.”

Burien recently passed its own $5 an hour grocery store hazard pay ordinance, applying to all stores with 500 or more employees. King County Council is also considering a bill that would expand Seattle’s measure to include unincorporated parts of the region.

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