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.”
PCC Community Markets’ West Seattle store opened this month on the site of its original location at 2749 California Ave. In celebration of 30 years in West Seattle and the official opening of the 12th PCC location, cake and coffee was served and the first 112 shoppers received a free bag of PCC's private label coffee, Tony’s.
The 24,000-square-foot store is nearly twice the size of the previous space and new offerings include:
- An outdoor patio.
- An expanded produce department and PCC’s largest selection of bulk items, including health and beauty care items.
- Made-from-scratch deli offerings, including a taqueria, pizzeria, grain bowls, antipasti bar, yogurt bar and more.
The new location features housemade deli offerings that can be taken to go, consumed in the dining area or on the new patio. Prepared food options include:
- PCC Taqueria, with pork adobado, beef barbacoa, tofu rojo, chicken verde, rice and beans, and freshly prepared salsas.
- PCC Pizzeria, showcasing fresh-baked pizza made in-house.
- PCC Grain Bowls, which are customizable with a range of flavors such as roasted sesame gochujang and lemon harissa dressing.
- Self-serve offerings, including an antipasti bar; PCC Yogurt Bar featuring PCC Organic Grass-Fed Yogurt; hot bar with scratch-made dishes such as Moroccan Lemon Chicken and Glazed Tempeh Fajitas; and cold bar with a variety of organic salad ingredients and more.
As with all PCC locations, the West Seattle store sources products that are fresh, local, organic, sustainably sourced and seasonal. More than 95% of PCC’s produce selection is organic: Its meats are 100% organic, non-GMO or grass fed; its seafood is sustainably sourced adhering to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch standards; and, whenever possible, the co-op sources its products from local producers, farmers, ranchers and fishers. Using those same ingredients, PCC chefs make salads, soups, entrees and side dishes in the store’s on-site kitchen.
The meat department and its butchers provide an opportunity to connect with customers, and customers are encouraged to ask questions. Butchers will offer suggestions on freezing, preparing and shopping for meat. All meat can be trimmed and portioned to customers' specifications, so fat can be trimmed off a chuck eye roast or a leg of lamb can be deboned. The butchers also grind a variety of meat in-store daily for the highest quality and freshness.
The new store offers a cafe that features handcrafted, certified organic espresso and tea beverages and freshly baked goods.
PCC veteran Nate Rundle will be director of the West Seattle store. He most recently worked at a PCC in Redmond, Wash., and previously held leadership positions at four PCC locations. Nate has built a depth of culinary skills throughout his career at establishments such as The French Laundry and works to provide West Seattle PCC members and shoppers with an unparalleled experience.
The West Seattle store has an expanded produce department, nearly twice the size of the original store’s. Local, in-season produce is the highlight of the department and the store has long-held relationships with Northwest farmers, so customers can know who planted the seeds and know the produce is going to be fresh, flavorful and grown the right way. PCC’s commitment to organic means customers can forage fearlessly. And kids can forage freely, because they always get a free piece of fruit.
PCC’s largest selection of bulk items, including health and body care products, such as shampoo and laundry detergent, is another feature of the new store.
PCC also is dedicated to supporting grassroots organizations that make up the fabric of West Seattle with donations, volunteering and grants. As it has during the past three decades, PCC will continue to partner with a variety of groups, including West Seattle Food Bank, DNDA, Neighborhood House, West Seattle Helpline, West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, West Seattle Junction Association, Duwamish Longhouse and Hiawatha Community Center, as well as dozens of schools in the area.
Furthering the co-op’s dedication to sustainability, West Seattle PCC also is the first grocery store in the world to pursue Living Building Challenge (LBC) Petal Certification—a rigorous green building standard. The LBC, run by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), comes to life through unique store elements, such as reclaimed, sustainably sourced and nontoxic building materials; energy-efficient systems that lower climate impact; electric-vehicle charging stations; and public art and design features with the sole intent of bringing beauty and a celebration of culture into the space.
As part of the Beauty Petal Certification for LBC, PCC enlisted Seattle artist Celeste Cooning to create “Cloud Wave," a canopy art installation that emulates water as the essential life force. Cut and assembled from reclaimed sail cloth, the fluid piece is suspended above shoppers and staff at the front of the store. The West Seattle location features a new design from local architect Graham Baba in collaboration with architect of record, Seattle-based MG2.
The West Seattle location was PCC’s sixth store when it opened in 1989, joining stores in Green Lake, Kirkland, View Ridge and the now closed Ravenna and Seward Park stores. At the time, sales were just over $10 million. Today, the new West Seattle store brings the co-op’s store count to 12 with total membership at nearly 70,000 and annual revenue of more than $288 million. PCC is the largest grocery co-op in the nation by store count, membership and revenue.
“Since opening this store in 1989, the community has graciously welcomed us, and our West Seattle membership has grown to nearly 4,000 over the last 30 years,” said CEO Cate Hardy. “We greatly appreciate the support throughout our redevelopment and can’t wait to welcome shoppers to our new space. This store combines some of the most loved aspects of PCC, like our local, organic and sustainably sourced produce, meat and seafood, plus new features that we know everyone will love.”