Policy Snapshot: Seattle mandates pay increase for some grocery workers

By: Editorial Staff Posted: 02/05/2021

The law, passed by the City Council in just six business days, now faces a lawsuit

On January 25, the Seattle City Council voted 8-0 to pass emergency legislation mandating that grocers employing more than 500 people worldwide, and with stores greater than 10,000 square feet, pay their employees an additional $4.00 an hour. This legislation would stay in effect for the duration of the City of Seattle's civil emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. Grocers that have had premium pay in effect throughout the pandemic can count that premium pay toward this additional compensation.

Councilmember Mosqueda first introduced this legislation on January 15; Council heard this legislation for the first and only time in committee on January 22 and passed the bill on January 25. Mayor Durkan signed this legislation into law on February 3, putting the mandated pay increase into effect.

The Seattle Metro Chamber closely monitored this legislation, both for its impacts on some of our members, as well as the broader implications of changing the city's regulations on employers so quickly.  

Upon the law's passage, we released the following statement

“We applaud our community’s grocery workers, who have shown up day after day during this pandemic. As our state’s vaccine distribution ramps up, we strongly support giving all frontline workers in essential positions like these access to the vaccine as swiftly as possible, and would urge the City to focus on how Seattle can be as strong a partner as possible to state and regional leaders to vaccinate our whole community quickly and equitably,” said Alicia Teel, a spokesperson for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

She added, “Employers in the grocery industry have also shown their commitment during the pandemic; as an industry with very thin margins, they have nonetheless taken on additional costs such as investing in PPE and more frequent cleaning to keep customers and employees safe. While well-intentioned, this bill simply directs them to do more, when they are already doing more than ever. This bill also sets a new precedent for unpredictability: it had its first and only hearing on Friday, got voted on today, and will go into effect as soon as the Mayor signs it. Acting with urgency should not include incomplete outreach to those who will be impacted and a complete departure from Seattle’s established legislative process. Employers need time to adjust their systems; instead they will be scrambling to ensure they are in compliance.”

On February 3, the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court challenging this new law.

Seattle City Council Insight reports:
"The associations’ complaint argues three separate reasons why they belief the ordinance is illegal:
  1. it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act;
  2. it violates the equal protection clauses of both the federal and state Constitutions;
  3. it violates the prohibition against government impairment of contracts in both the federal and state Constitutions."
Read SCC Insight's full coverage of the lawsuit here