Seattle City Council requires $4 an hour pay hike for grocery workers, adding to cost pressure during COVID recession.

As lawmakers in Olympia consider pandemic-relief legislation designed to help employers and others struggling during the recession, the Seattle City Council has voted to require large grocers to pay their workers an additional $4 an hour “hazard pay.” The Seattle Times reports, 

The legislation, introduced just last week, passed 8-0 Monday, clearing a requirement that it receive a three-quarter supermajority in order to go into effect immediately. Mayor Jenny Durkan called the policy “a strong step forward in Seattle’s recovery.”

The new requirement applies to grocery companies with more than 500 employees worldwide and to stores larger than 10,000 square feet. It does not apply to convenience stores or farmers markets.

Covered businesses will have to pay their retail employees $4 an hour on top of the pay they currently receive as long as the city’s coronavirus civil emergency, first declared in early March of last year, remains in effect. The legislation says the City Council intends to reconsider the policy after four months, but that is nonbinding.

For most workers in Seattle, the minimum wage in 2021 is $16.69 an hour, so for grocery workers that’s a bump to at least $20.69 an hour, or nearly 20 percent. Does anyone believe that won’t have consequences?

The ST reports,

A parade of union officials and grocery workers testified before the City Council on Monday in support of the pay boost, citing the increased risk workers have taken on and the increased profits of many of their employers.

And,

Tammie Hetrick, president of the Washington Food Industry Association, which represents grocers, said her members might look to cut back on the work they do in the community, things like working with food banks and nonprofit sponsorships.

She said grocers, who have very low profit margins already, were also staring at “huge increases” in their unemployment taxes exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We’re gong to have to make adjustments somewhere,” Hetrick said. “I know price increases is not where they’re going to look.”

Of course there will be adjustments. 

In other Seattle news, The Seattle Times editorial board writes,

A city must be both lawful and merciful to thrive. But a Seattle City Council proposal to let some people off the hook for minor crimes pits one principle against the other, diminishing both.

This misguided plan would reduce criminal accountability by allowing misdemeanor charges to be tossed out if the defendant claims poverty, substance abuse or behavioral disturbance. Councilmember Lisa Herbold slipped this proposal into city budget deliberations in October.

Among the many concerns,

Seattle has many shortcomings to work on. Among them are a downtown core hemorrhaging retail businesses amid a pandemic, an underserved population of people enduring addiction and homelessness, and sidewalks where rich and poor alike must consider safety and harassment risks. None of these concerns is addressed by diminishing accountability for offenses. 

The more affluent can simply depart from areas they don’t like. Others will be left a city where public safety and civility are afterthoughts. Retail shops, small and large, need to be able to rely on police response to shoplifting and harassment calls. This City Council, which cut Seattle’s police budget by $69 million just last November, is already contemplating a new proposed $5.4 million cut.

Raising business costs while reducing protection for employers runs counter to constructive efforts to provide relief from a year-long pandemic-induced recession.