Most who spoke during the council meeting supported grocery workers receiving hazard pay.
BY RACHEL KRAMER
As of April 26, 2021, the City Council of Bellingham has finally supported an ordinance requiring grocery store employees to receive an additional $4 of hazard pay through the end of the pandemic of COVID-19. The council will make one last vote on this ordinance on May 10, 2021.
While all grocery store employees are technically essential workers, the only grocery stores covered by the ordinance are the largely chain stores. It will effect before the end of May if the ordinance is passed on May 10, 2021.
Lisa Anderson, a member of the City Council, started the effort for hazard pay for grocery store employees nearly a year ago. She looked at what Burien and Seattle did to require hazard pay, and the ordinance for Bellingham is basically the same as theirs.
In a separate interview, Anderson explained that she thought places like smaller grocery stores and restaurants should be paying the employees hazard pay.
“I don’t want to hurt smaller stores that see less volume. I hope that the Community Co-Op finds a way to pay their employees more, especially since it’s community-owned,” she said. “Restaurants can’t afford hazard pay and they can’t get employees. Maybe restaurant food prices will increase, so the wages will go up for the employees.” Anderson said she doesn’t believe that the price of groceries will go up because of this new ordinance, which was mentioned by several who spoke at the April 26 meeting to opposed this. For the most part, the hazard pay comes directly from the employer and not from the government.
City Council Member Michael Lilliquist said that the ordinance had been modified so that administrative workers, home delivery drivers and truck drivers weren’t included in the hazard pay, and that the grocery stores that would be required to receive hazard pay were the ones that had more than 40 employees.
A hardware store worker, Cole DeZarn,mentioned concerns about costs going up.
“I really don’t think that the hazard pay is a good idea, as all this means is our grocery will go up,” he explained.
“Just like when everyone fought for higher minimum wage. It just raised the costs for everybody else and made it so that our wage that we were already getting would be depleted faster. Everything is already so inflated due to short supply with Covid that it does not need to get worse, and I feel like that would also put some smaller stores under.”
During the council meeting on April 26, 2021, Charlie Brown, a manager at Fred Meyer explained that he didn’t support the ordinance. He said Fred Meyer was one of the stores that paid their employees additional money during the peak of Covid.
“We have been offering to give all of our employees the Covid vaccine on site and we have even offered to pay $100 to our employees to get vaccinated,” Brown said.
Betsy Pernotto, a speaker at the city council meeting, was supporting the ordinance because the wages of grocery workers don’t reflect their essential status. Grocery store workers make ten cents over minimum wage to start. Certain stores paid hazard pay for one to two months to their employees. She went on to say thatthis was just another tool in the toolbox that the government can do to help people.
“Employees with direct customer contact are five times more likely to get Covid. They deserve hazard pay for the risk they take and if the grocery stores can afford it.”
Amanda Stewart, a speaker at the council meeting. appreciated the council’s support.
“I think it’s a simple action to say that you stand with the working class of Bellingham,” she said.
Marc Auerbach said there are 1,200 grocery workers at Haggen, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway in Bellingham and some large grocery stores pay workers less than $15/hr.
“It’s common for grocery workers in Bellingham to earn between $13.79 to $18 an hour,” he said. “A lot of grocery workers struggle to get consistent hours and unfortunately the landlord doesn’t discount the rent because our workers have gotten 20 hours instead of 35 hours this week.”