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King County approves risk payment for food workers in unfilled areas

Starting March 22, hundreds of grocery store employees in King County will receive extra cash in their pockets when they start raising $ 4 an hour.

The King County Council on Tuesday passed legislation to provide hazard payments to food workers working in the restive area of ​​King County under an emergency order issued by Executive Dow Constantine Coronavirus. King County joins Seattle’s other cities in the country, demanding a $ 4 salary increase.

Employees at King County grocery stores who work 32 hours a week can earn an extra $ 120, which can be spent on child care or mental health, says the local grocery union.

Additional pay for food workers is intended to compensate employees for taking an additional risk of exposure to the coronavirus during an epidemic.

The ordinance will provide an additional $ 4 an hour to non-King employees in more than 10,000 square feet of wholesale food stores, or more than 85,000 square feet of retail stores where at least 30% of the store is used to sell food. Employers must have at least 500 employees worldwide, with at least one employee working in one of the non-affiliated King County stores. It does not apply to people who work in convenience stores or farmers’ markets.

Exempt businesses include places where there are plenty of fresh food options at least two miles from the grocery store that will be required to cover the risk. In addition, the owner-operator must be independent, have four or fewer open stores, and employ more than 25 people.

The decision also protects employees from retaliation against their employers, the right to pay a fee, and the right to file a civil lawsuit if they are denied compensation.

A study published in the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine last October found that 20% of 104 Massachusetts grocery stores rated the coronavirus positively, 76% of which had no symptoms. The study concluded that employees who have direct contact with customers are five times more likely to have a positive outcome.

King Dembowski, a member of the King’s Council, sponsored legislation to recognize that food workers “can get people’s hands on food from public service,” he said during a bill last month.

The danger salary was given to the employees of the grocery stores at the beginning of the epidemic, but it was incomprehensibly cut, Dembovsky said.

“I think this is the right thing to do for people who go beyond the usual shifts,” said Dembowski.

During a public hearing at the King County Council meeting on Tuesday, Tiffany Meligan-Smith, a grocery store employee, urged council members to pass the legislation. Meligan-Smith, a Safeway employee at Roxbury for 10 years, said he contracted COVID-19 in March 2020 and was hospitalized with severe respiratory problems. He now has severe lung damage due to illness and had to spend months using an inhaler.

“My 7-year-old daughter continues to cough profusely, as if she had been smoking for years,” said Meligan-Smith.

He said the work was overwhelming during the epidemic. He said he had witnessed colleagues being cursed or spat at by angry customers who refused to wear masks, he said. “Not only do we have to deal with the dangers of working in a grocery store during an epidemic, but we also have to worry now if our customers keep us safe,” Meligan-Smith added.

The risk salary would help many of his colleagues “get the breathing room we really need,” he said.

Thousands of grocery workers will be positively impacted by legislation that could put an extra $ 120 a week in their pockets, says Sarah Cherry, executive vice president of UFCW Local 21, who represents 46,000 members in Washington who work in grocery, retail, and health care և other industries.

Amid calls for wage increases by food workers during the epidemic, grocery companies have complained that they are operating at low profits. Last month, the QFC announced it would close two Seattle locations, in part due to the passage of a Seattle Hazard Payment Act.

Holly Chisa, with the Northwest Grocery Association (NGA) industry group, disagreed with King County legislation, arguing that it would have a big impact on small shops. In multilingual stores, it will be difficult for employers to post decision details in multiple languages ​​within the 30 days required by law, he added. The association has filed a federal lawsuit against Seattle, arguing that the forced increases hinder the collective bargaining process between the shops and unions.

Another group of industry considered the concentration of legislation on food workers to be arbitrary. Small independent grocery stores that have much lower profits than large franchises will have a disproportionate impact. Seattle trial.

King County Council member Dave Uptegrow, co-sponsor of the legislation, said he did not buy the argument that large grocery stores would be forced to close because of rising wages.

“We have seen a huge growing gap between the rich and the poor in this country,” he said. Meanwhile, he claimed that large corporate grocery stores are seeing record profits.

“There is a public interest in providing economic opportunities for a healthy middle class for everyone, including those who are putting their lives in the epidemic,” Uptegrow added.

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