COMMENTARY: Seattle City Council cronyism benefits a labor union

KVI's Phil Vandervort notices something questionable about a $4 an hour 'hazard' pay requirement for large grocery stores just passed unanimously by the Seattle City Council. (photo: KOMO News)

Is this legal?

The Seattle City Council has voted unanimously to require "grocery companies with more than 500 employees worldwide and to stores larger than 10,000 square feet", according to Q13 News, to pay employees $4 per hour for 'hazard pay' during the COVID pandemic.

The vast majority—if not all—of these employees are going to be United Food and Commercial (UFCW) labor union members at grocery stores like Safeway and QFC, thus the cronyism. The $4 per hour requirement by the Seattle City Council "does not apply to convenience stores or farmers markets", according to Q13. Why? Well, probably because those aren't union jobs with the UFCW.

The 'hazard pay' requirement is being passed under the provisions of Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan declaring a coronavirus civil emergency, which is still in effect after being declared nearly a year ago in early March of 2020.

So that connects the 8 city council members and the mayor to this cronyism.

For instance, look who the UFCW 21 labor union endorsed for Seattle City Council in 2017: Teresa Mosqueda.

Guess who sponsored this $4 per hour hazard pay requirement: it was Teresa Mosqueda.

To bring it full circle, Seattle elected officials are compliant with Gov. Inslee’s restrictive and broad shutdown measures on businesses like gyms, restaurants and bars but the Seattle City Council is silent on those matters choosing instead to reward political constituents in a labor union, in this case the UFCW. If the Seattle City Council really cared about people in the pandemic, they'd speak out against Gov. Inslee's blanket restrictions on businesses. Allow businesses to re-open with reasonable limitations and let customers decide for themselves if they're willing to mix with the public amid the pandemic. Some customers will be inclined. Others won't.

The Seattle City Council obviously doesn't care about small business owners but they're in lock-step to find ways to reward their labor union backers. That's exactly what's happening with this Seattle cronyism. This is a money grab by the Seattle City Council. The next time these 8 council members come up for re-election, watch to see who the UFCW 21 endorses.

I'm doing all my shopping at grocery stores right now that will be subjected to this 'hazard pay' requirement, like Fred Meyer, QFC--which are both owned by the same parent company--Safeway and Trader Joe's. All the grocery store workers deserve our gratitude for working the cash registers and restocking the food/shelves during the pandemic to keep us fed and nourished. However, the naked cronyism involved here by the city council and mayor are another example of government (in Seattle) picking winners and losers rather then letting the union negotiate for the hazard pay or letting customers vote with their shopping habits at places that consider their employee compensation or keep costs down at the check stand by paying employees less.

What happens if the grocery stores raise their prices for customers after the Seattle City Council requires this higher wage to be paid? Now those costs are being passed along to customers which reduces their disposable income. That hurts customers on the lower end of the income bracket with less disposable income.

Meanwhile, here's a story about the private sector doing it voluntarily.

The views of Phil Vandervort are not necessarily reflective of KVI, its management or ownership.

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