PCC Community Markets has proposed temporary “appreciation pay” of $4 for all union workers in its Puget Sound market area, in line with a Seattle city ordinance mandating hazard pay for frontline grocery store workers due to the pandemic.
PCC’s proposal, submitted yesterday to United Foods and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21, came a day after the Northwest Grocery Association (NWGA) and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Seattle challenging the ordinance approved by the Seattle City Council, which went into effect on Feb. 3.
The Seattle City Council on Jan. 25 passed Council Bill 119990, which requires grocery employees in Seattle to receive hazard pay of $4 per hour during the “COVID-19 emergency.”
Under the legislation, hazard pay for grocery store workers remains in effect for the duration of coronavirus crisis. The council can reconsider the measure after four months, in alignment with the state health department’s plan to make COVID-19 vaccines available to all grocery workers by April. Convenience stores and food marts are exempted from the ordinance because they sell only a “limited line of goods,” according to the council.
“Hazard pay for grocery workers is the least we can do to recognize the dangers they face when going to work, including unmasked customers, customers who are coughing and not respecting social distancing rules, and cleaning of commonly used surfaces,” Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement announcing the legislation’s approval.
“Many grocery stores were paying their workers hazard pay early on in the pandemic, but that recognition quickly went away last summer, despite grocery store workers still facing serious risk of contracting COVID-19 at their workplace,” Mosqueda explained. “Grocery store workers are sacrificing their health to make sure shelves are stocked, but we should not treat grocery store workers as sacrificial when they are essential to feeding Seattle families and putting food on our tables. Requiring hazard pay fairly compensates grocery workers for putting themselves at risk, and also risking their family’s health and the financial burdens they may face should they contract COVID.”
However, PCC, NWGA and WFIA contend that the Seattle ordinance is being applied improperly because it only covers some grocery store employees and not other essential businesses and workers in the area. NWGA and WFIA also claim the law bypasses collective bargaining agreements.
Seattle-based PCC, a community-owned food market operating 15 stores, noted that its proposal would apply to all UFCW Local 21-represented associates in the Puget Sound area, not just those in locations with regional hazard pay ordinances.
“We recognize that our actions reflect our co-op’s values and are working to provide equitable treatment to all of our staff." — PCC Community Markets CEO Suzy Monford
"Staff members are the heart of the co-op,” PCC President and CEO Suzy Monford said in a statement. “The PCC leadership team, board of trustees and I remain focused on doing what’s right for our teammates. We recognize that our actions reflect our co-op’s values and are working to provide equitable treatment to all of our staff.”
The proposal also calls for “certain non-economic concessions” in exchange for the $4 hourly appreciation pay, according to PCC. As of Feb. 4, the retailer and the union hadn’t come to an accord on the proposal.
PCC added that it’s working to expand COVID vaccine access for associates, including through talks with state and local government officials to prioritize vaccinations for frontline grocery workers. The grocer said it’s also providing KN95 masks to all staff, and a “no mask, no entry” policy remains in place across the cooperative.
A week ago, PCC had sent a letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan after the city council approved the grocery worker hazard pay ordinance. With an overall active membership of almost 90,000 households, PCC has stores in the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard, Central District, Columbia City, Fremont, Green Lake, View Ridge and West Seattle. The retailer said it also plans to open new stores in downtown Seattle and Madison Valley, Wash., and relocate its Kirkland, Wash., location.
Seattle-based UFCW 21 claims PCC’s hazard pay proposal falls short and criticized the grocer’s requested concessions. The union said that PCC proposed payment of $4 an hour for five-and-a-half weeks — “a small fraction of the time we won in Seattle and Burien [Wash.]” — and the retailer called for the return of U-SCAN/Self Check without going through the bargaining process, deployment of new technology in stores “without workers having a voice in the process” and work to be pushed to “lower paid classifications” for curbside service. Meanwhile, PCC hasn’t proposed quarantine pay for workers exposed to COVID-19, UFCW 21 said.
“The bargaining team is committed to fighting for hazard pay to acknowledge our hard work and sacrifice throughout the pandemic,” stated Quinn Ráo, UFCW 21 bargaining team member who works in the front end of PCC’s Ballard store. “The last week has seen both workers and customers across PCC demand $4 hazard pay and denounce attempts made by company leadership to thwart meaningful grocery worker legislation. Now PCC wants us to agree to long-term concessions in our contract in exchange for reinstating short term ‘hazard pay.’ We insist that hazard pay should not come with strings attached.”
NWGA and WFIA said their suit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges that the Seattle hazard pay ordinance is illegal because it singles out certain grocers while overlooking other employers of essential frontline workers. The complaint also claims that, in enacting the new law, the Seattle City Council has illegally “inserted itself” into the collective-bargaining process.
“Requiring hazard pay fairly compensates grocery workers for putting themselves at risk, and also risking their family’s health." — Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda
"Nothing has been more important to grocers during the pandemic than the safety of our customers and our workers. We have held the front line, served our communities by remaining open, set the standard for safe environments, supplying much needed food and other necessities, offering pharmacy services including doorstep delivery, managing shortages of essential items, and investing millions to expand e-commerce platforms, and curbside and home delivery services,” according to NWGA President Amanda Dalton. “After this, our expectation was a well-earned priority position for all essential workers when vaccines became available. Instead, the city council singled out some grocery workers for an increase in pay while ignoring all other essential workers. This unequal application of ordinance is unfair and illegal.”
NWGA and WFIA said that the Seattle ordinance applies to a grocery worker who make a sub sandwiches but not to a quick-serve restaurant worker who performs the same function. Likewise, the associations said, grocery workers stocking apples in a store receive the hazard pay whereas workers who pick and pack the fruit do not. The ordinance also covers grocery store meat counter associates but not meat processing workers, NWGA and WFIA said, adding that hospital staff and other key frontline workers, including those employed by the city, also aren’t covered.
“Unfortunately, the council’s unprecedented ordinance, its unilateral action and unwillingness to work with the grocery industry has left us with no other option than to file a lawsuit against the city,” commented Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of WFIA.
“If the [Seattle] City Council had requested input from grocers, they would have seen real data that almost all the individual stores in Seattle experienced significantly decreased sales and profits compared to the year before,” Hetrick added. “Indeed, with entertainment hubs and office buildings closed for the year, and theft levels drastically increasing, grocery stores in the city struggled alongside other business, with many losing money each day they remained open. The expense of the new ordinance will have a number of negative consequences for the community, including fewer jobs for grocery workers and higher grocery costs for consumers at a time when they can least afford them.”
NWGA and WFIA reported that the grocery industry has “invested billions” in safety measures and worker compensation since the coronavirus outbreak and said grocery stores haven’t been named by health departments as “major vectors of virus transmission.” The associations cited data from the Washington Department of Health, which found that grocery stores account for 5.2% of reported non-healthcare setting COVID-19 outbreak events and 2.8% of all outbreak events in the state.
“We already provide best-in-industry compensation packages every day and provided expanded compensation packages as a result of the pandemic,” Dalton stated. “Now, the best way to reward our heroes is to get them vaccinated and to let us help vaccinate our communities.”
At the passage of the ordinance, the Seattle City Council pointed to a British Medical Journal report on a study of 104 grocery employees at a Boston supermarket, which found that 20% of the employees tested positive for COVID-19 — despite high use of face masks — and reported significant emotional and mental stress.
“Providing food to Seattle families has put grocery store workers on the pandemic front lines, yet they have not been paid hazard pay for nearly eight months,” commented Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, a co-sponsor of the bill. “While I wish we could require hazard pay for all essential workers, this legislation is focused on large grocery stores, most who have massive profits from a shift in consumer behavior.”
The council said Seattle’s ordinance for grocery worker hazard pay follows the enactment or announcement of similar legislation in other cities, including Berkeley, Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, West Hollywood, Berkeley, Oakland, Montebello, Calif., as well as Los Angeles County.