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Mayor Durkan vetoes bill to repeal grocery worker hazard pay

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Photo by Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Photo by Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

In face of the Omicron variant and record-breaking coronavirus infections across King County, Mayor Durkan has extended grocery workers' hazard pay in a swift veto of Council Bill 120119. The legislation would have rolled back hazard pay benefits for grocery store workers, halting it entirely at the start of the new year.

Originally passed December 14, the bill's summary recognized "considerable progress made toward supporting the health and safety of frontline workers and the community through high rates of vaccinations and reduced numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations." Unfortunately, current data projections indicate otherwise.

In the past two weeks, King County's COVID-19 dashboard has demonstrated record highs in daily infections, averaging 1,586 new infections per day.

Public Health — Seattle & King County announced Dec. 17 that the number of Omicron cases is rising rapidly locally. It predicted that these increased case numbers will last well into January.

Taking these ongoing increases into account, Durkan struck the bill down with her veto, officially submitted Monday.

"Now is not the time to roll back the pay for these critical frontline workers," she said. "In a time that there are no good choices, there are decisions we can make to protect the health, safety, and well-being of our residents, and hazard pay is one of the key city policies that have supported workers who have supported all of us."

Durkan first signed the hazard pay ordinance, co-authored by the UFCW21, into law on Feb. 3. It applies only to stores within city limits with at least 500 employees, and provides grocery store employees, who are exposed to crowds of people every day, compensation for their risks of exposure.

Although helpful for employee safety and retention, the law has been contested in the grocery industry at large. Upon announcement of the Seattle ordinance, which followed several other West Coast cities, Trader Joe's gave temporary raises to every employee nationwide, while canceling its typical mid-year raises.

QFC, which is owned by grocery giant Kroger, explained two store closures as consequence of the hazard pay requirement. These stores are not set to reopen.

This veto will serve as one of Durkan's final mayoral actions. Bruce Harrell begins his term as mayor on January 1, the same day that hazard pay would have been cut off.