Wil Peterson is a cashier at Fred Meyer in Everett, but he won’t receive the temporary $4 per hour hazard pay increase that many grocery workers in unincorporated Snohomish County will receive. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Wil Peterson is a cashier at Fred Meyer in Everett, but he won’t receive the temporary $4 per hour hazard pay increase that many grocery workers in unincorporated Snohomish County will receive. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Geography defines who gets grocery hazard pay — and who doesn’t

The county required at least eight grocery stores to temporarily boost pay in unincorporated areas.

EVERETT — Many of the county’s grocery workers are now earning an extra $4 per hour.

After a new ordinance went into effect last week, the county required at least eight stores to provide hazard pay.

The mandate applies to large grocery stores in unincorporated Snohomish County. Employees at Albertsons, Safeway and Fred Meyer all qualify as long as their store isn’t within the boundaries of a city.

While the county executive’s office has a list of stores required to pony up, more could be eligible. It’s still unclear if Walmart, one of the county’s largest employers, is also required to provide hazard pay.

In an emailed response to The Daily Herald, a Walmart spokesperson wrote “we continue to comply with local ordinances” but did not answer whether any of the company’s stores will provide hazard pay under the new ordinance. According to Economic Alliance Snohomish County, Walmart employs more than 3,000 people here.

Ken Klein, a director in the county executive’s office, said the request for county-mandated hazard pay came from grocery store workers, mostly in the unions UFCW 21 (United Food and Commercial Workers Union) and Teamsters Local 38.

During a public hearing last month, grocery workers voiced multiple safety concerns. While some were related to contracting or spreading COVID-19, many were about customers who were hostile or physically violent when asked to comply with the stores’ safety measures.

Working conditions meant fewer people were applying for jobs at the grocery stores, workers said. It forced employees to work longer hours and fill multiple roles. Staff who cared for family members at home were under extreme stress. One Safeway employee said she used to watch her grandchildren several times per week.

“This time is a treasure to me,” the employee told council members. “Throughout COVID, I have been unable to have regular interactions with them, because of my job as a grocery worker, which has not only been heart-wrenching for me, but also for them. My ability to care for my elderly parents who need me every day has also been put on hold.”

While many grocery workers are now receiving the pay bump, those that don’t qualify are still feeling the same frustrations. Wil Peterson, a Fred Meyer cashier in Everett, said several coworkers have approached him about hazard pay.

“There is a lot of anger and a lot of frustration,” Peterson said. “Yes, there is this victory for the unincorporated parts of Snohomish County, but it doesn’t affect us.”

Peterson began working at Fred Meyer in 2003. A few weeks before the pandemic began, he temporarily left his job to work in his union’s communications department. Returning to Fred Meyer in November 2020 was “a shock to the system,” he said.

“It got real very quickly,” Peterson said. “I was like, ‘Now I know why people were talking about wanting hazard pay.’”

The Snohomish County Council approved the ordinance in a 3-2 vote on June 23. Council members who voted in favor of the ordinance said workers deserved more pay for the risk they took on during the pandemic.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask a couple of multi-billion dollar corporations, that have tripled their sales throughout the pandemic, to give a little bit more back to their workers,” Councilman Jared Mead said during the public hearing.

Council members Sam Low and Nate Nehring voted against the ordinance. Nehring proposed the county use money from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund grocery workers’ hazard pay, but the proposal was rejected. The American Rescue Plan Act gave Snohomish County nearly $160 million in federal money that it can spend on a wide range of issues.

“Using some of those federal funds for hazard pay would really have only taken a small fraction of that funding,” Nehring told The Herald. “I think it would have been far more appropriate than forcing these private businesses to cover this type of hazard pay.”

Klein said the county only has authority to mandate a pay bump in unincorporated areas. Each city can decide whether to require companies to provide hazard pay within its boundaries.

In the spring, Edmonds passed an ordinance similar to the county’s.

The county executive’s office doesn’t know how many employees will receive premium pay. It isn’t collecting that information or making sure companies follow the new rules, Klein said. If a company violates the ordinance, employees have the option to sue the company.

“It gives them a license to take legal action against the store,” Klein said. “But there is no county mechanism for requiring or calculating whether or not a store is actually following through with the requirements of the ordinance.”

The ordinance applies to grocery stores in unincorporated Snohomish County that are more than 10,000 square feet. Businesses over 85,000 square feet with 30% of the sales floor dedicated to grocery sales also qualify. Under the ordinance, grocery workers can earn up to $1,250 in hazard pay before taxes.

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

Grocery Stores Now Providing Hazard Pay

Safeway: 20711 Bothell Highway, Bothell

Albertsons: 17520 state Route 9, Snohomish

Fred Meyer: 2902 164th St. SW, Lynnwood

Safeway: 14826 Highway 99, Lynnwood

Safeway: 5802 134th Pl SE, Everett

Albertsons: 520 128th St SW, Everett

Albertsons: 12811 Beverly Park Rd, Lynnwood

Fred Meyer: 21045 Bothell Everett Hwy, Bothell

Talk to us

More in Local News

An emergency responder uses a line to navigate the steep slope along a Forest Service road where seven people were injured Saturday when a vehicle went off the road near the Boulder River trailhead west of Darrington. (Darrington Fire District)
7 hurt in crash off cliff west of Darrington; 1 airlfited

A vehicle crashed on a forest service road near Boulder River, leading to a major rescue operation.

The aftermath of a fire that damaged a unit at the Villas at Lakewood apartment complex in Marysville on Saturday. (Marysville Fire District)
2 families displaced by Marysville apartment fire

Nobody was injured when the fire broke out Saturday morning on 27th Avenue NE.

Mukilteo asks for input on housing density, and it’s complicated

Here’s a guide to what voters should know about the advisory ballot measure. What does it actually do?

Kevin Gallagher (from the Snohomish County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet November 2, 2021 General Election)
Kevin Gallagher, a Marysville City Council candidate, dies

Kevin Gallagher, 52, died at home of natural causes. He was challenging incumbent Councilmember Tom King.

Clouds hover over the waters off Everett's western edge Monday morning. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Get ready for La Niña and a soggy winter in Snohomish County

After a hot, dry summer, Washington feels like Washington again. Damp. Gray. Normal.

Downtown Coupeville on Whidbey Island, March 2021. (Harry Anderson)
Whidbey Island real estate prices continue to climb

Despite a slight lull in August and September, it continues to be a seller’s market on Whidbey.

Gold Bar man airlifted after trying to start fire with gas

The man suffered severe burns after he used gasoline to start a fire in his yard.

Another housing unit at Monroe prison targeted for closure

A corrections leader says 502 workers could lose their jobs if they aren’t vaccinated against COVID by Monday.

Mill Creek Police at the scene of a fatal car accident on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. (Mill Creek Police)
Police investigating Mill Creek collision where man died

A stretch of 35th Ave SE was expected to be closed for a few hours Friday night.

Most Read