Looks like hazard pay for grocery workers is here to stay for a little while longer. Four months after a federal judge struck down a lawsuit filed by Pacific Northwest food industry groups challenging Seattle’s $4 per hour pay boost, the Northwest Grocery Association has dropped its appeal to the ruling, according to an official statement by the group.
Seattle’s hazard pay ordinance, passed in January, applies to those covered by the minimum wage law who work at stores with more than 500 employees worldwide and at locations bigger than 10,000-square-feet. But it’s unclear how much longer the mandate will be in place. The language of the bill said council members would consider modifying the ordinance after four months taking into account the “health, safety, and economic risks of frontline work” at the time. With the highly contagious delta variant causing a spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations, and a mask mandate going into effect across the state starting August 23, it seems clear that conditions continue to be perilous.
As such, in an early August briefing, the Seattle city council decided to delay a vote on lifting the hazard pay rule until September 13 at the earliest. “We are going to continue to review the best public health information as we continue to look at this legislation,” said council member Teresa Mosqueda. “We want to protect not only frontline grocery workers but also the members of the public that they also interact with.”
In early 2021, grocery industry groups pushed back aggressively against hazard pay laws, both in Seattle and all along the West Coast, where similar ordinances were enacted, citing negative impacts to the bottom line. PCC Community Markets was among the major chains that complained initially, before reversing course and applying hazard pay to all its locations (CEO Suzy Monford eventually stepped down from her position after a volatile tenure beginning with her resistance to the hazard pay law). QFC blamed the mandate on its decision to close two locations in Seattle.
A legal challenge soon came from the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association, alleging that Seattle’s hazard pay mandate unconstitutionally inserted itself into collective-bargaining agreements and showed favoritism toward employees at larger chains. But U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour was not persuaded by that argument, writing in his decision that grocery workers’ “heightened risk of contracting COVID-19” and record profits from large grocers during the pandemic gave the ordinance “reasonable grounds.”
Once the lawsuit was dismissed, the Northwest Grocery Association continued with an appeal — but the group now seems confident that even with a delayed city council vote, the hazard pay rule won’t last much longer, anyway.
“We agreed that the issue was likely moot given the City Council’s intent to repeal the ordinance in the near future,” the organization said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Seattle as we continue to ensure the safety of our teams and customers and focus on vaccine education and outreach.”