Council rejects hazard pay proposal for Auburn grocery workers

The Auburn City Council on May 17 rejected an ordinance that would have required large grocery store chains operating in Auburn to provide a $4-per-hour hazard pay increase to their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed legislation went down by a vote of 4 to 3, with councilmembers Claude DaCorsi, Yolanda Trout-Manuel, Bob Baggett and Robyn Mulenga voting no, and Larry Brown, Chris Stearns and James Jeyaraj voting yes.

Brown first suggested the city consider that step in March 2021 to compensate frontline workers who risk their lives and the lives of their families to serve the public during the crisis.

In recent weeks, however, councilmembers raised questions about the proposed ordinance, including its bottom-line effect on grocery stores and the actual pay of the workers. Last week at a study session, representatives of the grocery stores and a representative UFCW Local 21 addressed the council.

Just before Monday’s vote, Jeyaraj had suggested two amendments to the ordinance, the first of which would have cut the hazard pay from $4 to $3 an hour, and the second that would have raised the size of the employment base for affected grocery stores like Safeway, Fred Meyer and Albertsons from the ordinance-suggested minimum of 250 to 500 employees world=wide.

The two amendments failed as a single item, and Brown tried then to resurrect the employee base issue as a separate item.

“I think this is a reasonable accommodation for stores that may not be the corporate giants that are engaged in stock buybacks, multimillion-dollar raises for executives,” Brown said of raising the employee base. “That, I think, is who can afford to pay hazard pay, and that is who I think should be paying the hazard pay.”

Brown’s amendment also failed.

Had council passed that amendment and then the ordinance with it as a part, Saar’s Super Saver Store, which is locally owned and employs more than 250 but less than 500, would have been required to provide hazard pay.