Northwest grocery associations file lawsuit against Seattle over $4 hazard pay law

Two Northwest grocery organizations have filed a lawsuit against the city of Seattle, calling the new $4 hazard pay law "invalid and unconstitutional."

The Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association claim the new legislation is invalied for two reasons: the law is preempted by federal law regulating collective bargaining and unfair labor practices and it violates the equal protection and contracts clauses of the U.S. and Washington constitutions. 

By design, the ordinance picks "winners and losers," the lawsuit states. 

The lawsuit also says grocery stores have put in place a number of safety measures and have compensated employees for their efforts during the pandemic in the form of "appreciation pay," "hero bonuses" and "thank you" pay.

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Last week, the Seattle Council approved legislation requiring large grocers to pay an extra $4 an hour in hazard pay. 

The hazard pay applies to grocery companies with more than 500 employees and for stores larger than 10,000 square feet, such as Safeway, QFC, and others. The ordinance doesn't apply to convenience stores, food marts or farmers' markets. 

In a statement to Q13 News, a spokesperson with Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, "We will absolutely defend the City’s right to see essential grocery workers receive the hazard pay they so rightly deserve."

Local grocery store chain PCC sent a letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, citing a number of concerns over the potential financial impacts the pay raise could have on them. The letter says the focus should be on vaccination and that grocery stores in Washington state are safe places to work. 

PCC also says independent grocers are doing everything they can to protect staff from coronavirus and that independent grocery companies also have slim profit margins. The company says the law disproportionally harms local, independent chains.

In a statement provided by Durkan's office, the mayor backed the additional pay for store employees.

"Grocery store workers have continued to work every day of this challenging time and I am glad we are finally able to recognize and compensate the effort that has kept stores open and communities fed over the past year," said Durkan.