South Sound grocery workers denied hazard pay with veto threat

Pierce County Council approved hazard pay for grocery workers Tuesday evening. It follows similar wins for organized labor who pushed similar efforts in Seattle and King County, but the county’s top elected official announced he did not support the hazard pay.

Dozens of union workers from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 367 spent Wednesday rallying in downtown Tacoma to deliver a message to County Executive Bruce Dammeier, urging him to not go through with his announced decision to veto the ordinance.

If approved many South Sound grocery store workers would be eligible for $4 per hour hazard pay. Workers at the rally said even though the county’s phased reopening did not rollback, the threat it could have done so proves danger remains.

RELATED: Frustration in Pierce County over Phase 2 COVID restrictions remaining in place

"They’re admitting it’s a hazardous environment, then why would they not seem that we need hazard pay?" asked worker Heather Herness.

The married mother said she used to run her own business but the pandemic turned her job into a personal shopper. Herness said food prices are rising so fast she cannot afford the same items she packs for customers. But hazard pay could help more, like allowing her husband a chance to spend time with his grandmother who entered hospice in the past few weeks.

"He could be away for a couple weeks and quarantine and spend that time with his grandmother that raised him," she said. "That’s what $4 an hour could mean to me."

RELATED: Inslee pauses COVID reopening plan; all counties to remain in their current phases

Workers and union leaders took their signatures directly to the county executive, Bruce Dammeier, who then immediately met with the group.

Dammeier sat and listened to their complaints and concerns, but he said the ordinance isn’t fair. The hazard pay only impacts workers at stores in unincorporated portions of the county and the ordinance could exacerbate food prices in communities already struggling to keep food on the table.

Dammeier told union leadership and others their best protection is to get a vaccine.

"I want to make sure if anybody wants vaccinations we will get you one right now," he said.

If the executive vetoes the ordinance, the county council does have 30 days to respond. Council could override that veto but would need a 2/3rd majority.

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