Retailers

PCC Markets Urges Government to Reconsider Hazard Pay Ordinance

Makes case for indie grocers, asks mayor to to focus on worker vaccinations
PCC Community Markets
Rendering Courtesy PCC Community Markets

In the wake of new hazard pay ordinances in a number of California cities and Seattle, which if passed into law would mark the first time such policies have been government-mandated rather than government-funded or voluntarily employer-provided, PCC Community Markets is urging Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to focus on grocery worker vaccine access rather than pay increases.

“PCC rarely weighs in on issues in the Seattle City Council,” wrote PCC Community Markets CEO Suzy Monford in a letter to Mayor Durkan, the company shared with WGB.We are proud to partner with the city on many efforts, including food access and food systems programs. We are so concerned about the impact of the Hazard Pay Ordinance (CB1119990) on independent grocers like us, that we feel we have no choice other than to share our concerns.” 

Monford goes on to “respectfully request” that the government consider the impact of a hazard pay ordinance “on local, independent grocers” and focus instead on vaccination.

“Grocery workers need expanded access to vaccines to keep them protected from COVID both at home and at work,” wrote Monford. “PCC Community Markets has had only 36 of our 1,710 staff contract COVID since last February. No infections were determined to be contracted at work and 33 of those infections were determined to result from infection at home or outside of work. Our staff should be protected throughout their day—including at home—so that we can keep them on the job and healthy.” 

PCC is offering a $25 gift card to its staff members who get vaccinated to move its workforce in that direction. “The city should be focused on keeping all grocery workers on the job by taking steps to ensure their swift vaccination,” Monford added. 

Citing a November 2020 Washington State Department of Health report titled, COVID-19 Outbreaks in Grocery Settings, PCC Markets says it is safer to work in a grocery store than to work in goods production or government. “Only 5% of all non-health care COVID workplace outbreaks occurred in grocery stores, and grocery stores accounted for less than 2.8% of all workplace outbreaks,” says the company. “In contrast, the goods-producing industry accounted for 29% and government accounted for 7% of all workplace outbreaks. PCC has not had any confirmed workplace outbreaks. This is a testament to our commitment to workplace safety.” 

Monford asks the mayor to acknowledge independent grocers’ proactive approach to protecting their staff members from COVID.  “When COVID hit, independent grocers began to meet and share safety best practices through the Washington Food Industry Association. We proactively instituted controls, in many cases, before they were released by local health officials,” she added. “We deployed mask mandates, instituted extensive new cleaning protocols, increased air filtration in our stores and rolled out barriers between customers and staff prior to the availability of guidance from health departments.

“Each grocer spent millions of dollars on the COVID controls discussed above in our stores,” Monford wrote. “In addition to those costs, many of us paid additional pay—hazard, hero or appreciation pay—to our staff during the early months of the pandemic, to recognize their contributions.

In its letter to the mayor, PCC notes that most independent grocers have a slim profit margin of less than 0.5%, citing data from the Washington Food Industry Association. Add to this the surge in online grocery ordering and delivery, for which many independent grocers like PCC use third-party online delivery services and to whom these grocers must pay a percentage of each purchase for use of the service, and profits are even tighter for indies, said Monford. 

“This ordinance disproportionately harms local, independent grocers like PCC Community Markets, which in 2019 had $1.7 million in net income. That may sound like a lot, but to put that in context, PCC spent $3 million—or nearly [twice] 2019 net income—in COVID-related expenses in 2020, including staff member appreciation pay, bonuses and in-store safety protocols, since the start of the pandemic. 

“Although independent grocers are proud to have provided a safe and healthy shopping and working environment, our profit margins are even more slim than previous years. Unlike large corporate grocers who saw a large sustained uptick in sales nationwide, we have not had a sustained increase in sales and do not have a national footprint to rely on to offset these costs nor the cost of doing business in Seattle,” Monford explained.

In closing, PCC asked Mayor Durkan to either consider not signing the bill or modifying to “exclude the smaller, local grocers who will be deeply damaged by this ordinance.” 

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