Seattle mandates $4 per hour COVID pay boost for grocery workers

In an 8-0 vote Jan. 25, Seattle City Council ordered large grocery stores to pay workers $4 an hour hazard pay until the end of the COVID-19 emergency.

When the pandemic first hit, big grocery chains like Kroger and Safeway offered front-line workers “appreciation” pay and bonuses of up to $2 an hour. The workers are still considered essential, and still face potential exposure, but companies phased out bonus pay after a few months, even as grocery sales continued to boom.

The new city ordinance took effect Feb. 3. It applies at Seattle stores larger than 10,000 square feet that are owned by grocery companies that have more than 500 employees worldwide.

The ordinance was sponsored by City Council member Teresa Mosqueda, former political director for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

“Hazard pay for grocery workers is the least we can do to recognize the dangers they face when going to work,” Mosqueda said in a press statement, “including unmasked customers, customers who are coughing and not respecting social distancing rules, and cleaning of commonly used surfaces.”

The ordinance received strong backing from the grocery workers union, 46,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21. Over 800 Local 21 members and allies contacted Seattle City Council to support the ordinance, the union said in a statement celebrating the vote.

“Grocery store operators have reaped billions of dollars in windfall profits as a direct result of the shift to at-home meal preparation, but have failed to compensate workers for the added risks and burdens of working on the frontline during the pandemic,” the statement said.

At least nine local jurisdictions in California have either required or are on track to require hazard pay for grocery store workers, including Berkeley, Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, West Hollywood, Berkeley, Oakland, Montebello, and Los Angeles County.

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