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Bellingham City Council to hold public hearing about requiring grocery businesses to pay “hazard pay”

Shoppers wait to check out at Ferndale Grocery Outlet (March 13, 2020). Photo: Whatcom News
Shoppers wait to check out at Ferndale Grocery Outlet (March 13, 2020). Photo: Whatcom News

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Bellingham City Council has scheduled a public hearing regarding a proposed ordinance that would require some grocery businesses to pay their workers additional “hazard pay.”

The draft ordinance mandates “establishing a requirement for grocery employees to receive hazard pay for work performed in Bellingham during the COVID-19 emergency.” It cites “the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program study that revealed that top retail companies, including grocery businesses, are making record profits during the global pandemic.”

Bellingham grocery businesses with 40 or more employees will be required to pay employees an additional $4 per hour in “hazard pay” if this ordinance is approved by the City Council.

During yesterday’s City Council Committee meetings, the draft ordinance was amended to define a “grocery business” as a store operating in Bellingham with 40 or more employees.

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The public hearing is scheduled for the next regular City Council meeting on April 26th. A council vote could follow immediately during that meeting but it is common practice to schedule it for the next regular City Council meeting on May 10th.

A similar ordinance was approved in Seattle in February. The Bellingham ordinance is similar to the Seattle ordinance which also mandated $4 per hour additional pay.

Soon after the Seattle ordinance was passed, The Kroger Co. announced they would shut down 2 QFC grocery stores in Seattle citing the financial burden created by the ordinance. When the California cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach each adopted similar ordinances, Kroger announced the closure of 2 of stores in Long Beach and 3 in Los Angeles. Kroger is the parent company of Fred Meyer stores which has 2 locations in Bellingham.

Earlier this week and also in California, Redwood City’s City Council voted to require large grocery stores and drugstores to pay their workers an additional $5 per hour in hazard pay through at least July 11th.

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Since early in the pandemic, national grocer Trader Joe’s reports they have paid their employees an additional $2 per hour “thank you” wage. That was increased to a total of $4 per hour additional pay effective February 1, 2021.

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