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: firstname.lastname@example.org; 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