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Pierce County Executive to veto newly-passed grocery store hazard pay ordinance

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The Pierce County Council passed an ordinance enacting an additional $4 an hour in hazard pay for grocery workers on Tuesday night, with County Executive Bruce Dammeier stating his intention to veto the measure not long after.

CM Dunn: Grocery hazard pay is the ‘direct first of government’

The council passed the ordinance by a slim 4-3 margin along party lines. The measure would have applied solely to unincorporated areas of the county for grocery stores with 500 or more employees worldwide. Convenience stores, food marts, and farmers’ markets would have been exempted.

“These workers have been on the frontlines for the last year and it has not been easy,” said County Councilmember Jani Hitchen, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. “While the proposed additional pay won’t make their jobs easier, it provides much-needed compensation for the hazards of working while facing significant exposure to COVID-19.”

In objecting to the ordinance, Dammeier sided with the three Republicans on the council who voted against the ordinance, arguing that the county should “focus on reducing COVID-19 risk instead of driving up costs.”

“If grocery stores are unsafe, then make them safer, not more expensive,” he added, encouraging grocery store workers to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“The reason [the hazard pay] came to a vote by the council is, I think, the kind of the grocery store workers union has been pushing this for a while across the region,” Dammeier told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “And so that’s why the council, I think, was responding to that pressure, at least some members of the council were.”

“My concern is — so, first of all, I do have the public health concern, right? I want to make sure grocery store workers are safe and our whole community is safe,” he added. “So my focus is about finding ways to make sure they are safe doing their job, not taking an action that will drive up the cost of food in Pierce County, and in a way that affects some of the most challenged parts of our community.”

He says if it’s an issue or concern of health and safety in the workplace, the focus should be on getting grocery store workers vaccinated.

Dammeier also believes that the ordinance itself is an overreach of county government.

“This is an overreach and an inappropriate use of government power intruding into, in many cases, a private sector collective bargaining agreement or into a private sector negotiated arrangement with their employees,” he said.

Similar measures have been passed across the Puget Sound region. In early March, the King County Council enacted hazard pay for grocery workers in its own unincorporated areas, following the lead of both Seattle and Burien, which each passed ordinances at the city level.

Opinion: Shades of hypocrisy in Seattle hazard pay debate

Seattle’s hazard pay measure led to a lawsuit filed by the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association in February, arguing that the ordinance did not consider existing union agreements, that it impaired existing contracts with employees, and that it was unfair because it denies equal protections to workers in other industries.

In mid-March, a U.S. District judge dismissed that lawsuit.

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