PCC urges City to rethink hazard pay for grocery store workers

PCC Community Markets is asking Seattle City Council to reconsider the hazard pay ordinance to increase grocery store workers’ hourly rate by $4.

Seattle City Council last week passed the Hazard Pay for Grocery Store Workers Bill, set to be signed by Mayor Jenny Durkan this week. The bill requires all Seattle grocery stores to increase their workers’ hourly rates while COVID-19 remains a concern to the region. The legislation was co-sponsored by Councilmembers M. Lorena González, Lisa Herbold, Tammy J. Morales, Kshama Sawant, Dan Strauss and Andrew J. Lewis.

PCC’s CEO Suzy Monford has submitted a letter of opposition to the council describing her concerns, asking councilmembers to, “weigh the impact of the ordinance on local, independent grocers and consider the following before signing the ordinance into law.”

In the letter, Monford requests that the City’s focus be on vaccination rather than increasing hazard pay.

“PCC Community Markets has had only 36 of our 1710 staff contract COVID since last February.  No infections were determined to be contracted at work and 33 of those infections were determined to result from infection at home or outside of work,” her letter reads. As an incentive, PCC is giving out $25 gift cards to employees who get vaccinated.

Monford maintains that grocery stores are safe places to work, citing a state study published in November that found only 5 percent of all non-healthcare COVID workplace outbreaks occurred in grocery stores. She says PCC has not confirmed any workplace outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic.

Other highlights of the letter point to proactive prevention and protection measures for employees, and the potential financial hit of the ordinance on the local grocer.

“Large scale grocers may see a decent profit margin, but most independent grocers have less than a 0.5% profit margin, according to the Washington Food Industry Association.  The cost of COVID response, including the safety controls that we have committed to in order to keep our staff safe and the additional pay, have cut our margins to the bone,” she writes.  

“Unlike large corporate grocers who saw a large sustained uptick in sales nationwide, we have not had a sustained increase in sales and do not have a national footprint to rely on to offset these costs nor the cost of doing business in Seattle.”

According to Seattle City Council, the legislation may be reconsidered in four months. The timeframe corresponds with the state’s COVID vaccination plan, which envisions vaccine availability to all-aged grocery employees by April.

You can read PCC’s letter in full here.

Photo: PCC Ballard