Seattle council moves to set end date for grocery store hazard pay ordinance
Seattle City Council passed a bill on Monday seeking to establish an end date for a grocery store hazard pay ordinance.
The original ordinance establishing an additional $4 an hour for the city’s grocery store workers was passed in February 2021, designed to provide added compensation for those working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similar measures were also passed in a handful of other cities and counties across Western Washington around that same time.
Given that the ordinance was always meant to be temporary, Seattle councilmembers have weighed a potential end date on multiple occasions in recent months, each time opting to delay the process due to uncertainty over rises and falls in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Originally, the plan was to have it last for the duration of the state of emergency related to the pandemic.
With the measure passed by the council on Monday, the hazard pay ordinance will instead come to an end one month after the bill’s effective date, which will be dependent on when it’s officially signed into law. If it’s signed next month by incoming Mayor Bruce Harrell, that would end the city’s grocery store hazard pay sometime in February 2022.
The bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, took the opportunity during Monday’s session to frame the hazard pay as a decisive labor action on behalf of low-wage Seattle workers that “has sparked a conversation between [frontline workers and their employers] around longer term wins and policy improvements. These will yield a longer lasting and higher level of investment in worker safety and respect.”
Mosqueda continued with a promise that the council would consider subsequent action on hazard pay were the pandemic to increase in severity such that frontline workers were to expose themselves to greater risk.
“We will consider hazard pay again for grocery store workers and other workers if needed on any new public health data that continues to make itself available,” Mosqueda said.
The bill reached a unanimous 8-0 vote, with Councilmembers Mosqueda and Alex Pedersen both affirming the temporary nature of the hazard pay and their obligation to end the requirement as such.
The Northwest Grocery Association, which filed suit to challenge the requirement in March of this year (the lawsuit was subsequently struck down in federal court), voiced its support of the council’s decision to end the requirement.
“By January, Seattle grocery stores will have paid over 274 days of hazard pay,” wrote Amanda Dalton, President of the Northwest Grocery Association, in a news release. “As the only business targeted by the Council to pay this enhanced wage, we are appreciative that the Seattle City Council has acknowledged that a repeal makes sense today. Snohomish County, Federal Way and Bainbridge Island have also chosen to repeal their mandate and all municipalities in California, where this concept began, have long since ended. Most California ordinances lasted 120 days. It is our hope that King County will follow the actions of the Seattle Council tomorrow during their scheduled vote.”