Growing number of cities requiring grocery chains to provide hazard pay

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FILE – In this May 5, 2020, file photo, a grocery worker, wears a protective mask and gloves, as he helps to check out a customer from behind a plexiglass barrier at a market in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

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Grocery store workers across the country aren’t getting the hazard pay they received from their employers at the beginning of the pandemic anymore.

But now, a growing number of cities are starting to require large grocery chains to give that extra pay again.

This week, Seattle became the latest city to have that mandate go into effect. Large grocery stores there have to pay workers in the city an additional $4 an hour.

Long Beach, California, also recently added this mandate. And other cities across The Golden State are talking about doing this, too.

“The way these hazard pay mandates were written, they really target just a handful of very profitable companies that have earned a lot of extra income during the pandemic,” said Molly Kinder with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the nonprofit Brookings Institution.

Kinder has been researching policies for front-line workers during the pandemic. She says there are still legal questions with these new mandates.

One is the legal grounds for singling out some workers over others. Another is, are these mandates legal with the collective bargaining agreements between grocery stores and unions representing workers?

She says how these issues get resolved will influence how much these mandates catch on across the country.

There have been differing responses in Long Beach so far. Trader Joe’s decided to temporarily raise the pay of all of its workers across the country. Kroger will be closing two of its stores in the Long Beach area.

“It’s pretty clear that Kroger has some means to be able to pay some hazard pay. The exact amount, you know, that can be up to debate about what’s the right level that they can afford, but I think it’s pretty clear from their earnings statements alone that Kroger has extra profit now because of the pandemic that it could be spending on workers,” said Kinder.

In a statement, Kroger says in part, the mandate “oversteps the traditional bargaining process and applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city.”

As far as any action on hazard pay on a federal level, the Biden administration talks about it in the latest stimulus proposal. But it doesn’t mandate it, just calls out large grocery and retail companies saying workers should receive it.

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