News Brief: PCC Response to the Hazard Pay Ordinance
PCC shares its letter to Seattle Mayor Durkan in response to the Hazard Pay Ordinance.
PCC rarely weighs in on issues in the Seattle City Council. 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. We respectfully request that you weigh the impact of the ordinance on local, independent grocers and consider the following before signing the ordinance into law:
- Our collective focus should be on vaccination. Grocery workers need expanded access to vaccines to keep them protected from COVID both at home and at work. PCC Community Markets has had only 36 of our 1710 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 our staff members who get vaccinated to move our 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.
- Washington grocery stores are safe places to work. It is safer to work in a grocery store than work in goods production or government. According to a Washington State Department of Health report issued in November 2020 (see attached), 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. 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.
- Independent grocers are proactively acting to protect our staff members from COVID. The low outbreak rates reported by the State of Washington are due to grocers’ effort and should be acknowledged. 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. 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. We continue to cooperate with local and state health officials to ensure that our workplaces are safe and healthy. Each grocer spent millions of dollars on the COVID controls discussed above in our stores. 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.
- Independent grocers have a slim profit margin. Large scale grocers may see a decent profit margin, but most independent grocers have less than a 0.5% profit margin, according to the Washington Food Industry Association. The cost of COVID response, including the safety controls that we have committed to in order to keep our staff safe and the additional pay, have cut our margins to the bone. A growing contingent of our customers (about 4% of all transactions and growing) use third-party online delivery services to whom we have to pay a significant percentage of each purchase for use of the service. This ordinance disproportionately harms local, independent grocers like PCC Community Markets, which in 2019 had $1.7M in net income. That may sound like a lot, but to put that in context, PCC spent $3M – or nearly 2X 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.
We hope, given local business concerns, you’ll consider not signing the bill, or alternatively, modify it to exclude the smaller, local grocers who will be deeply damaged by this ordinance. We encourage you to evaluate the impact on local grocery, struggling under the cost of COVID safety measures yet committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment.
PCC Community Markets
Cc: City Council Members