Hazard pay update

Pierce County is showing their true colors and how they feel about giving hazard pay to grocery workers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers labor union 367 has been working tirelessly trying to get the workers within their county boundaries to get the hazard pay that they so deserve. They have been pushing to get grocery workers to listen in on their city council and county meetings to tell them about their experiences of working in a grocery store during the pandemic.

In King 5’s 2021 article discussing the Pierce County Executive, Bruce Dammeier’s, intent to veto the ordinance, they go into detail about the contents of said ordinance. “Under the ordinance, stores over 10,000 square feet in size primarily selling groceries, or stores with 10,000 square feet of space dedicated to selling groceries would be required to pay workers an additional $4 an hour,” they said.  

UFCW 367 President Angel Gonzalez, provided me with some information about how much these companies have been making since the beginning of the pandemic. In 2019, Albertsons — which also includes Safeway — made $399 in profits. Kroger made $1,659 million in profits in 2019. 

In 2020, Albertsons made $994 million in profit through Sept. As for Kroger, they made $2,585 million in profit up to Sept. in 2020. These companies are saying that they don’t have the money to give workers hazard pay, but with the skyrocketing profits made in 2020 it’s clear that they have the funds they just don’t want to.

“Hazard pay has been implemented throughout cities and counties in western Washington, including Seattle and King County,” giving UFCW 367 a solid foundation for their demand for hazard pay in Pierce County.

On May 4, there was a vote in the Pierce County council for all grocery store workers to receive hazard pay. With a vote of four yays and three nays in support of the ordinance, it went up to Dammeier who, within ten minutes of getting the ordinance, sent out an email explaining why he was going to veto it.

On May 5, UFCW 367 went down to the county building in Tacoma where President Angel Gonzalez and two members plus the media walked up to Bruce Dammeier’s office to have a conversation with him. A few minutes later he came into the conference room and listened to what they had to say, along with the number of signatures from grocery workers and the public of those who support the hazard pay getting passed.

Those who work at the grocery stores have been on the front lines throughout this pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk since the beginning. Now that we are a year into this, some of the public is done wearing masks and go into the stores without them. This is something that grocery workers see every day, and it is something that I have witnessed as well. 

But the grocery workers are told not to ask customers to put on masks because if customers get mad and stop shopping there because they have to wear a mask, then the stores will lose money, which is something the CEOs don’t want. So, they put their workers at risk because money is more important than keeping people safe.  

Dammeier’s response to everything was “ … if grocery stores are unsafe, then make them safer, not more expensive,” as stated in the King 5 article. He also noted that “the best way to reduce COVID-19 risk is for more people to get vaccinated,” and then pushed grocery workers to get vaccinated at the Tacoma Dome.  

In a Facebook live, Dammeier went on to say that UFCW 367 that it is not the county’s responsibility to get into big business issues and that UFCW 367 needs to do more bargaining with the companies — despite their efforts to do so  since the start of the pandemic. 

If the county voted yes on the ordinance it was not going to put the county into  big business issues, it would have instead shown these big corporations that a whole county is in support of hazard pay for the people within their county.

Since Dammeier declined supporting hazard pay, UFCW 367 has shifted their efforts to the cities, pushing them to support the local grocery workers. But the cities have not done anything to help the workers, many are keeping the hazard pay issue at the committee level, meaning if the committee has not passed it then it does not go up to the city officials who will actually vote on it.

The cities have said that they did not want the county to tell them what to do when it comes to this situation and they got their wish, yet the cities are just sitting on their hands not doing anything about the issue still.

If you would like to see the full conversation with Angel Gonzalez, the two members and Bruce Dammeier, please go to UFCW 367 Facebook page and you will see a livestream on May 5 at 1:30pm.