Auburn to consider hazard pay for grocery workers at large stores

Seattle and Burien and other cities have recently passed ordinances pertaining to implementing mandatory hazard pay for employees of large grocery stores within city limits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, Auburn City Councilman Larry Brown wants the city to consider something like that here.

“We’re all very fortunate that retail grocery workers stayed on the job and made available the food that we all need to buy when we go to the grocery store,” Brown began at the close of the March 8 council study session.

Noting that Seattle’s ordinance provides for $4-an-hour hazard pay, and Burien’s ordinance provides for $5 an hour, Brown said, “I was hoping that we could look at the potential of passing a similar ordinance here in Auburn to both help what are normally low-wage workers dealing with very difficult health issues … every day, and I was hoping our council would take a look at it.”

Brown, who is also president of the Washington State Labor Council, said several Auburn residents had suggested the idea to him.

City attorney Kendra Comeau will draw up a draft ordinance and resolution, and staff will provide information for council members to consider at a future study session.

Generally such ordinances affect only businesss with a minimum of 500 employees and a minimum of 10,000 square feet of store size, which immediately cuts out mom-and-pop outlets.

The larger grocery outlets have fought the measures as too expensive.

Grocery Workers Union UFCW Local 21 lobbied for the ordinances in Seattle and Burien and could take up the cause in Auburn.

On March 9, Tom Geiger, public informaation officer for UFCW Local 21, said he hadn’t had time to gather much information about the issue in Auburn, but he was able to offer some generalities.

“All of (these ordinances) are temporary in nature, that is, they are intended to last for a period of time when the emergencies are in place in different communities, and so most have time periods of, like, three to four months as cities assess the status of emergency orders,” Geiger said.

“The public has been very much in support of these as well. It’s unfortunate that the companies haven’t stepped up and done this voluntarily, hence the need for moving rhough local councils,” Geiger said.