Seattle Grocers Lose Pay-Law Challenge

A federal judge rejected a lawsuit seeking to overturn the city’s $4-an-hour recognition pay ordinance.

March 22, 2021

Seattle, Washington, USA Skyline

SEATTLE—A U.S. District judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association challenging a Seattle ordinance granting employees of large grocery stores and other retail outlets a $4-an-hour recognition pay boost during the pandemic, the Seattle Times reports.

In granting the City of Seattle’s motion to reject the suit, Northwest Grocery Association et al. v. City of Seattle, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said the trade groups failed to establish that Seattle’s Grocery Employee Hazard Pay Ordinance was unconstitutional or preempted by the National Labor Relations Act.

The city council passed the ordinance in late January, and it took effect Feb. 3. It applies to grocers with more than 500 employees worldwide and stores larger than 10,000 square feet within the city limits.

The grocer trade groups maintained that the ordinance interferes with the collective-bargaining process and picks winners and losers by singling out large grocery chains, the Seattle Times reports.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes called the court’s ruling “a big win for grocery store employees who have been critical and vulnerable frontline workers since the start of the pandemic.”

Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association, said “The state's own data shows that grocery stores are not hazardous, and our workers will soon be vaccinated. Now is not the time to enact hazard pay ordinances."

Hetrick said, “These pay mandates do not consider the differences within our industry. Our members have invested millions into safety measures for their employees and customers, while also providing additional pay and other bonuses. But that appears to be lost in this debate over wages —not safety.”

Elsewhere, other challenges are pending against similar recognition pay ordinances in other localities.