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Bellingham approves hazard pay for city’s grocery workers

The following is from UFCW 21:

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (April 28, 2021) — The Bellingham City Council voted 5 to 2 Monday night to mandate $4 per hour hazard pay for frontline workers at large grocery store chains in the city. The ordinance goes into effect in two weeks. It will cover unionized employers, including Kroger-owned Fred Meyer, as well as Safeway and Haggen, and also include non-union grocery stores such as Whole Foods.

“We fought an honorable fight for an honorable cause to give the hard-working people on the front lines what they deserve in these hazardous times. I want to personally thank the Bellingham City Council for recognizing the hazardous conditions we work in and for their support in compensating us for it. When we stand together, we win together,” said Chris Vincent, a veteran produce worker at Bakerview Fred Meyer, who had helped organize co-workers to send emails and give public comment at multiple City Council meetings.

The Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, led by Secretary-Treasurer Michele Stelovich, and Whatcom County Jobs With Justice, led by Betsy Pernotto, provided crucial support to UFCW 21, engaging councilmembers and mobilizing supporters to send messages of support and provide comments at several meetings.

Speaking before Council on March 8, the Labor Council’s Stelovich stated, “They stepped up, they went to work, and they made sure that we had food on our tables. So I just wanted to thank all the grocery workers that have done that. You know that some of the grocery stores have made huge profits… So these are things that they can afford to be able to give their workers… and reward them for being good employees that came to work under very difficult conditions.”

Support for the new law also came from Whatcom County DSA which mobilized supporters to speak up for grocery workers at multiple council meetings. The only significant opposition came from The Northwest Grocery Association and Fred Meyer who sent representatives to council to speak against the ordinance.

Large grocery chains have profited massively from the COVID-19 pandemic, as tens of billions of dollars in food sales shifted from restaurants to grocery stores. At Albertsons (which owns Safeway and Haggen) profit was up 209% for the year, and the company sent $1.88 billion to investors through stock buybacks. At Kroger, profit was up almost a billion dollars, and the company sent $1.32 billion to investors through stock buybacks.

The Bellingham City Council’s vote culminated nearly a year-long campaign by Bellingham grocery workers to demand hazard pay after Albertsons and Kroger discontinued it last May. Members and community supporters held multiple protest actions to educate the public and sent hundreds of messages to City Council once the issue moved into the legislative arena in February.

Tracy Call, a Fred Meyer checker, called for the law during a Bellingham City Council meeting last month. “Day in and day out, we all show up to work, to do our jobs. We still do it, even at the risk of our health and our loved ones. We’re not asking for the world with this request for hazard pay. Kroger is having record profits on the backs of good hard-working people,”

Throughout the campaign, UFCW 21 members have also emphasized the need for improved COVID safety in their workplaces.

City Council Member Lisa Anderson shepherded the hazard pay ordinance to victory over several months, never backing down in the face of the grocery industry’s legal threats and misinformation.

These Bellingham City Council members voted to support grocery workers: Lisa Anderson, Hannah Stone, Michael Lilliquist, Hollie Huthman, and Daniel Hammill.

These Bellingham City Council members voted against grocery workers: Gene Knutson and Pinky Vargas.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!