Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the United States, is closing two stores in Seattle, Washington due to the city’s mandated hazard pay for workers.
Seattle recently joined several other West Coast cities in passing hazard-pay laws that require grocery stores to pay workers an extra $4 an hour, even though there hasn’t been any indication that the coronavirus has swept through grocery stores despite remaining open throughout the pandemic. CNN reported that Seattle’s hazard pay law relates to grocery stores over 85,000 square feet, which are required to pay workers the additional sum per hour.
The two stores being closed are part of Kroger’s QFC brand, which the company said will close in April.
“Unfortunately, Seattle City Council didn’t consider that grocery stores — even in a pandemic — operate on razor-thin profit margins in a very competitive landscape,” QFC said in a press release this week. A spokesperson for the grocery chain told Business Journal that the two stores to be closed “were already struggling and the Seattle City Council decision made it impossible for us to run a financially sustainable business.”
As CNN reported, Kroger offered its employees an extra $2 an hour when the pandemic first started, but ended that program in May 2020.
Earlier this month two grocery groups – the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association – sued Seattle, alleging the hazard-pay law broke the law by targeting large employers. In the lawsuit, the groups note that grocery stores were already providing “appreciation pay,” “hero bonuses,” and “thank you pay,” as well as implementing numerous health and safety measures to protect workers, yet Seattle City Council members still suggested they weren’t doing enough.
“By design, the Ordinance picks winners and losers,” the lawsuit says. “It singles out large grocery companies with unionized workforces (i.e. [United Commercial Food Workers International] UCFW’s members) without providing any reasonable justification for the exclusion of other employers or frontline retail workers. 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. There is no support for any of the City’s statements that the Hazard Pay will protect public health, address economic insecurity, and promote job retention.”
The lawsuit also notes that UCFW sponsored the ordinance.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, Kroger has announced other store closures in California cities after they also passed hazard pay laws.
“As a result of the City of Long Beach’s decision to pass an ordinance mandating Extra Pay for grocery workers, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close long-struggling store locations in Long Beach. This misguided action by the Long Beach City Council oversteps the traditional bargaining process and applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city,” Kroger said in a statement at the time.
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