Social distancing sign at Whole Foods

Whole Foods workers will be eligible.

Even during a pandemic, there's at least one public space you can't avoid: the grocery store. Not unless you adopt a fasting program that would make Jack Dorsey woozy, cultivate a remarkably fecund urban garden (show-off), or hire a service to deliver your milk and beans. Or maybe just order gobs of takeout.

Anyway, for the many Seattleites who venture to markets, it's easy enough to limit the time of these visits and avoid the spread of Covid-19—grab and go, more or less. But the workers scanning your items or restocking shelves don't have the same luxury and have sought protections throughout the pandemic. They remain in enclosed spaces where the virus can linger; supermarkets are among the leading sites for outbreaks in the state, and one oft-cited study has shown that grocery store employees are at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19.

Seattle City Council noted that research in late January when it unanimously passed a hazard pay raise to grocery store workers at big companies across the city. On Friday, the mayor's office announced the $4 hourly bump will take effect on Wednesday, February 3. It will include all workers at markets with more than 500 employees worldwide (think QFC, Safeway, Whole Foods). "Grocery store workers have continued to work every day of this challenging time, and I am glad we are finally able to recognize and compensate the effort that has kept stores open and communities fed over the past year," mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement.

Durkan and the city council referenced the importance of equity in backing the bill. "The dangers of working during the pandemic are especially significant for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) employees who are overrepresented among the retail frontline workforce and who are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19," the ordinance says.

The bill also asserts that the council aims to modify or eliminate the pay increase in about four months, the "best-case scenario" for vaccinating all grocery store workers. 

The news comes after some cities in California approved similar policies. This summer, Seattle instituted a pay increase for gig workers at food delivery companies, and a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers in the city officially began on January 1. Uber said it would increase the cost of trips by 25 percent to make up for the wage hike.

The pay bump for grocery store workers has also faced some resistance. On Friday, a letter signed by PCC Community Markets CEO Suzy Monford called for Durkan to "consider not signing the bill, or alternatively, modify it to exclude the smaller, local grocers who will be deeply damaged by this ordinance." She cited PCC's safety measures and the slim profit margins of independent grocers as reasons for rejecting the legislation as-written.

The bill's lead sponsor, council member Teresa Mosqueda, isn't limiting her scope to just supermarkets. "Hazard pay is only one piece of the puzzle," Mosqueda said in a statement, "and I’ll continue fighting for essential workers who need early and equitable access to vaccines and other safety measures at their worksites."

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