With COVID cases on the rise, Mayor Durkan vetoes council’s repeal of hazard pay ordinance

Dec 22, 2021, 10:20 AM | Updated: 11:00 am
Seattle grocery store hazard pay...
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has vetoed the city council’s repeal of its grocery store hazard pay ordinance.

Mayor Durkan rejects calls to veto grocery store hazard pay

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. Last week, Seattle City Council voted to repeal the measure, days before concerns began to surface over a surge in COVID cases brought on by the omicron variant.

That surge was the primary reason Durkan cited for her veto.

“Now is not the time to roll back the pay for these critical front-line workers,” she said in a press release on Wednesday. “… This summer, I asked Council to not lift hazard pay for grocery workers as Delta was emerging, and now as Omicron is newly emerging, one of my last actions as Mayor will be to protect this critical pay for our frontline workers.”

The arrival of omicron has driven a 143% week-over-week increase in COVID-19 cases in King County, with Seattle expected to soon see its highest ever single-day case count. Modelers at UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation believe there could be a total of 3 billion new infections from the variant globally over the next two months.

Rise of omicron variant in Seattle prompts demand for testing, boosters

The council’s repeal passed by a veto-proof 8-0 majority, although that vote predated the recent sudden increase in cases. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda — who sponsored the original bill — sent out a release of her own following Durkan’s veto, expressing her support for allowing the grocery store hazard pay ordinance to remain in place in light of the current circumstances.

“In the last week, the emergence, prevalence and severity of COVID has increased due to the Omicron variant,” she said. “We have also received new public health guidance and advice, evolving as late as last Friday. We are now seeing the effects the Omicron variant will have on our population’s health and the elevated risk grocery store workers will face in the months ahead. It’s with these new developments that hazard pay will remain in place.”

Prior to last week’s vote, Seattle councilmembers had weighed a potential end date on multiple occasions in the late summer and fall, 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.

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With COVID cases on the rise, Mayor Durkan vetoes council’s repeal of hazard pay ordinance