Grocers Sue Seattle, Oakland Over ‘Hazard Pay’ Ordinances

Supermarket associations filed the suits after the cities mandated pay raises for grocery store workers.

February 05, 2021

SEATTLE—Seattle’s new $4 an hour pay raise for grocery store employees went into effect Wednesday, after the city council approved the increase as “hazard pay” for essential workers, the Seattle Times reports.

Also on Wednesday, the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) filed suit against the city over the new law.

“Unfortunately, the council’s unprecedented ordinance, its unilateral action, and unwillingness to work with the grocery industry has left us with no other option than to file a lawsuit against the city,” Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of WFIA, said in a prepared statement.

The Seattle ordinance forces supermarkets with more than 500 workers worldwide and locations larger than 10,000 square feet within city limits to add $4 an hour to the paychecks of all workers. The mandated pay raise must be paid for as long as the city is in a declared civil emergency.

“The ordinance arbitrarily and improperly targets grocery store businesses in Seattle for disparate treatment while not requiring the same commitments from similarly situated businesses, or conferring any benefits on similarly situated employees,” according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, Calif., the California Grocers Association filed suit against the city a day after the council approved a $5 an hour pay bump for workers at large food sellers, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The trade association also filed a similar suit against Montebello in Los Angeles County, while it also has a pending case against Long Beach, also in Los Angeles County.

Under Oakland’s ordinance, stores with more than 15,000 square feet that stock mostly food and have more than 500 workers across the nation would have to pay employees $5 more per hour. The City Council estimated about 2,000 workers would be impacted by the mandate.

However, the lawsuit claims such a law harms the grocers’ “fundamental right to be free from unreasonable governmental interference with their contracts, specifically their collective bargaining agreements and other employment agreements.”

Kroger announced this week the closure of two stores because of these mandates. Last month, the Santa Monica City Council voted to approve a temporary pay boost—a $5 increase—for grocery and drugstore employees in the city. On Tuesday, Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to require grocery stores to temporarily pay workers an extra $5 an hour.