Olympia approves hazard pay for some grocery workers

OLYMPIA — Starting next month, large grocery stores in Olympia will be required to pay workers an additional $4 an hour in pay, the latest city in the state to enact such a requirement during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Olympian reported the Olympia City Council unanimously passed the ordinance Tuesday. The hazard pay requirement takes effect May 1 and lasts as long as Washington is under a state of emergency as declared by the governor, with the opportunity to revisit the policy in four months.

It applies to grocery stores with more than 250 employees. Farmers markets and convenience stores are excluded from the requirement, and an amendment approved by council also excludes truck drivers and corporate office staff.

“Olympia residents want Olympia to be a leader in wage equity and a leader in workplace safety, and this is a small ask in my opinion,” said council member Jim Cooper, who estimated it could affect about 450 workers citywide.

The city of Seattle passed a similar ordinance in January, and the cities of Burien and Edmonds have also required hazard pay for grocery workers.

The Port Angeles City Council considered it, did not vote on it, but a poll of the council members at a meeting earlier this month showed it lacked the votes for passage

The vote followed months of advocacy from grocery workers and unions. Grocery chains initially offered hazard pay at the beginning of the pandemic but eventually revoked it.

Charlotte Verdini-Elliot, who works at Fred Meyer, said that grocery workers, while deemed essential, have not been treated that way by their employers.

“Workers continue to be harassed and bullied by a public that has politicized this pandemic,” Verdini-Elliot said, noting that one of her co-workers contracted COVID-19 on the job.

Officials with The Northwest Grocery Association and Washington Food Industry Association spoke against the hazard pay proposal, saying that it singled out grocery stores but doesn’t apply to other types of retail, like pharmacies.

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