Council committee to study pros and cons of hazard pay ordinance

The cities of Seattle and Burien have passed legislation mandating hazard pay for employees of large grocery stores within their boundaries during the COVID-19 pandemic

King County followed suit last week for large grocery stores in the unincorporated areas.

On March 8, Auburn City Councilmember Larry Brown suggested the city of Auburn consider doing the same for employees of large grocery store within city limits “to help what are normally low-wage workers dealing with very difficult health issues … every day.”

That idea is now moving forward.

On March 15, Mayor Nancy Backus directed Deputy Mayor Claude DaCorsi to form an ad-hoc committee composed of himself and two other council members to do some research into that topic and bring their findings back to the full council at a near-future study session.

At next week’s city council study session (March 22), council members will talk about who will be on that committee.

Brown, who is also president of the Washington State Labor Council, said several Auburn residents had suggested the council take up the issue.

Seattle’s and King County’s ordinances provide for $4-an-hour hazard pay, and Burien’s ordinance provides for $5 an hour.

Auburn 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 businesses 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.

Larger grocery outlets have fought the measures as too expensive.

All such 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 three to four months as cities assess the status of their emergency orders.

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

“The public has been very much in support of these as well,” Tom Geiger, public information officer for UFCW Local 21, told the Auburn Reporter last week. “It’s unfortunate that the companies haven’t stepped up and done this voluntarily, hence the need for moving through local councils.”