Return to normal? Seattle City Council votes to end pandemic hazard pay for grocery workers

Pandemic hazard pay of an additional $4 dollars an hour to grocery store workers in Seattle will likely end by next month after a 5-2 vote by the Seattle City Council in favor of ending it.
Seattle grocery businesses that employ at least 500 staff members worldwide

Updated: August 4, 2022 - 11:54pm

Pandemic hazard pay of an additional $4 dollars an hour to grocery store workers in Seattle will likely end by next month after a 5-2 vote by the Seattle City Council in favor of ending it.

Seattle grocery businesses that employ at least 500 staff members worldwide have been required to pay their workers an additional $4 dollars an hour since the hazard pay was set on Feb. 3, 2021.

Prior to the council’s vote on Tuesday, socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant made a statement against ending the hazard pay. She cited COVID-19 surges and inflation as reasons to not cut grocery workers' pay, while saying “they deserve a raise, not a pay cut.”

“In contrast, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen took home a cool $18 million last year. Albertsons President Sharon McCollam was paid $11.7 million,” Sawant added. “They’re hiking food prices for working people while reaping billions in profits.”

Sawant referred back to what a West Seattle worker and member of grocery workers union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3000, said to the City Council last week.

“We are basically hanging by a thread. And if that thread called hazard pay is cut, it’s going to be very devastating for the grocery workers in this city,” the worker had said in a public comment.

When the hazard pay was imposed, the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle that accused councilors of violating both the Constitution and collective bargaining rights.

The Washington Policy Center said in May that profit margins in the retail and food sectors are less than 5% on average and that adding additional costs, like the hazard pay, have resulted in layoffs, less available hours for workers and closed stores.

In late April, UFCW Local 3000 voted to ratify its contract, which will give the most veteran union workers wage increases of $4 to $9 dollars an hour for the next three years. That will start Aug. 28, according to Councilmember Tammy Morales.

The biggest increase in hourly wages will go to workers in departments that have “historically suffered from an inequitable pay structure that this contract eliminates,” according to the union.

The end of the hazard pay coincides with Washington State Governor Jay Inslee’s move last Friday to rescind 12 COVID-19 emergency authority proclamations. That will take effect on Oct. 27.

The hazard pay will end 30 days after Mayor Bruce Harrell signs the ordinance.