Aberdeen will not consider an ordinance for grocery worker hazard pay

An attempt by some Aberdeen City Council members to force larger grocery stores in the city limits to provide hazard pay to their workers failed to gain adequate support at this week’s council meeting.

Councilwoman Liz Ellis made a motion for the Finance Committee to draft a resolution similar to those passed by city councils in Olympia, Seattle and Edmonds, to require larger grocery stores within their cities to provide hazard pay to frontline grocery workers. The Seattle and Olympia ordinances set the amount at $4 an hour above current pay.

A similar ordinance before the Port Angeles City Council, which set the amount at $2, failed 4-3 April 22. Port Angeles is similar in population to Aberdeen, with about 3,000 more residents.

“To me, we’re targeting one business here, and I don’t support it,” said Councilwoman Tawni Andrews.

The council has received numerous letters from Safeway grocery workers, saying they deserved the hazard pay for having to deal with customers who were not following masking and social distancing rules. Other council members argued any such ordinance here would likely just impact Safeway.

Ellis argued that the ordinance would be drafted such that all grocery stores with a certain number of employees — the Olympia ordinance set the number at 250, Edmonds 500 — and the ordinance would not be intended to target just one store.

Council President Dee Anne Shaw said grocery workers have unions that can bargain with stores on items regarding working conditions.

“All represented workers have the right to approach their employer and bargain wages and working conditions,” she said. “I am not willing to supplant the role of the union … I think it’s an overstep and overreach” by the council.

Councilwoman Deborah Ross and Shaw both felt the best course of action would be to “take a strong stand and really insist as a community that (Safeway) be a better and safer place to shop,” said Shaw.

Ellis argued that she had communicated employee concerns to Safeway management, but she had not heard back. She said an ordinance would give those union represented grocery workers the ability to take their employers to court over their working conditions, an additional tool outside of their union representation.

City Attorney Patrice Kent noted that if such a hazard pay ordinance were passed, it would be up to the city to enforce it and decide penalties for noncompliance.

“I have so many questions and concerns about this I don’t even know where to begin,” said Mayor Pete Schave. “I don’t know how we’d enforce this or what staff member you think should be put in charge of enforcing this. I just can’t even imagine the city creating an ordinance dictating what a legitimate business has to pay their employees, for one, and two, who are you leaving out? What about the city employees that are out there every day, the doctors and nurses that are out there every day, the police officers, the firefighters?”

In the end, the council rejected referring the matter to the Finance Committee for further consideration by a vote of 7-3, with council members Joshua Francey and Margo Shortt not in attendance. Voting yes were council members Ellis, Nathan Kennedy and Alan Richrod. Voting no were council members Andrews, Frank Gordon, Kati Kachman, John Maki, Ross, Shaw, and Melvin Taylor.

Shaw then made a motion to have the city Public Safety Committee “look into the concerns” in the letters given to the council by grocery workers, “to see if the council has a role in this issue.” Andrews said such concerns were state enforcement issues. Kent said some of the complaints have been forwarded to the state Department of Labor and Industries and she would forward the rest. That motion also failed, 6-4.