More than a year after the first death in the U.S. was reported in King County, grocery workers continue to risk their lives to serve people who need their groceries, often at wages near or just above minimum wage while grocery store operators have reaped windfall profits.
Members of the King County Council are now working to address that risk with legislation introduced Thursday that would require a $4 per hour hazard pay for employees at large grocery stores in unincorporated King County.
“For the last year I have visited with, and thanked the checkers, stockers, butchers and deli workers at the grocery stores I shop. I have seen and heard their fatigue, and also their courage and dedication to their customers,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who drafted the legislation. “These extraordinary times call for governments like King County to respond with extraordinary help. I am proud to stand with these frontline workers and ensure that the risks they and their families are taking, and the dedication they are showing, is reflected in our laws, and in their paychecks. Four dollars an hour is a small price to pay to ensure the continued service they are providing to our communities.”
The legislation, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay and Dave Upthegrove, would require the pay until the COVID-19 emergency declared by Executive Dow Constantine ends.
“At a time when local governments are struggling to fund basic services, large grocery sites are making record profits while their low-wage employees face the hazards of working during a pandemic,” Upthegrove said. “This temporary bump in pay can alleviate the financial injustice experienced by frontline essential workers who risk their lives—and their families’ lives—without the dignity of a fair wage to support them.”
The cities of Seattle and Burien have recently approved and implemented similar measures, and other local governments have taken similar steps to ensure frontline grocery workers are paid for the risk they undertake in their daily work.
“The pandemic economy has worsened inequities for workers and communities,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “While small businesses and governments are stretched thin providing basic and essential services, many large grocery chains are seeing record profits. And while that’s good for them, it’s fair that they share with the frontline workers who show up every day to help keep our communities fed and our economy moving.”
Sarah Cherin, Executive Vice President of UFCW 21: “In May of 2020, large grocery stores cut the hazard pay of workers. Since then these frontline essential workers have served our communities and their employers who have banked billions in record profits. These workers deserve hazard pay and we look forward to and appreciate the King County Council’s action to approve it like the cities of Seattle and Burien.”
Jeanette Randall, Roxbury Safeway employee: “I work at the Roxbury Safeway and every day when I go to work I put myself and my family at risk, King County passing a hazard pay ordinance would make sure workers like me receive the same compensation for the essential work that I do as workers in neighboring Burien and Seattle.”