Grocery Associations file lawsuit against City of Burien to halt grocery worker extra pay
information from NWGA
The Northwest Grocery Association (NWGA) and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) have filed a lawsuit against the City of Burien challenging an ordinance approved by the Burien City Council that took effect today,
Wednesday, February 17th at 12:01 a.m. The ordinance mandates extra pay of $5.00 per hour for some grocery store employees, treating essential businesses and workers unfairly and bypassing collective bargaining agreements.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court Western District of Washington, asks the court to declare the new ordinance void and to grant a preliminary and permanent injunction against
enforcement of the ordinance. The suit will likely track with a similar suit filed against the City of Seattle on February 3rd.
“Our grocery members care about the safety of all essential workers and we have invested heavily in safety measures and benefits to our workers. This ordinance doesn’t do anything to make grocery workers safer. If the city council wants to make them safer, we ask them to help us in asking the Governor to prioritize vaccination for all essential workers now, regardless of age,” said Amanda Dalton, NWGA President. “Washington grocery stores have been safe throughout the pandemic and remain safe. Filing another lawsuit is the last thing we want to do, but the unequal application of this ordinance is unfair and illegal and needs to be challenged on its merits.”
“Independent grocers are going to have to make some hard decisions about how to comply with this mandate, “said Tammie Hetrick, President & CEO of the WFIA. “Many have already indicated this is not sustainable for four months as required without significant changes in their
business model. The added burden of COVID safety protocols, enhanced online capabilities to serve our customers during the pandemic, and drastically increasing theft levels have been very costly, and our members are already having discussions about different ideas of how to keep their doors open.”
The lawsuit alleges that the City of Burien ordinance is illegal in two ways:
1. By singling out certain grocers and ignoring other groups that employ essential frontline workers, the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution’s Equal Protection Clauses, which require similarly situated people to be treated alike.
2. The ordinance is preempted by the federal National Labor Relations Act, which protects the integrity of the collective-bargaining process. The City Council has inserted itself into the collective-bargaining process, which it has no legal right to do.
The inequality of the ordinance is significant and perplexing. Under the ordinance, a worker who makes sub sandwiches at a quick-serve restaurant is not covered, but a grocery worker who makes a sub sandwich is covered. Similarly, a grocery worker who stocks apples in a store will be paid more, but the workers who pick and pack the fruit are not covered. Meat processing workers are not covered, but meat counter grocery workers are. Teachers, hospital staff and other critical frontline workers, including those employed by the city, are left out. And the Department of Labor’s statistics show that all of the industries noted above have suffered far more outbreaks than the grocery industry.
In addition to the inherent contradictions and exclusions in the ordinance, the City Council enacted it with little public input, without industry input, outside of collective bargaining agreements, and without a complete analysis of the impacts of the ordinance on families, communities, and businesses.
“Our city leaders should be focused on making our community safe and healthy again,” said Dalton. “We already provide best-in-industry compensation packages every day and provided expanded compensation packages as a result of the pandemic, while keeping our stores safe.
Now, the best way to reward our heroes is to get them vaccinated and to let us help vaccinate our communities.”