The Fred Meyer store on the East Hill of Kent. STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

The Fred Meyer store on the East Hill of Kent. STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Kent City Council declines to move forward on pay hike for grocery workers

Majority says city shouldn’t play role in telling businesses to raise pay

Grocery store workers in Kent apparently won’t be getting any hazard pay ordinance from the City Council.

A majority of council members at their April 13 virtual Committee of the Whole meeting said they oppose the city requiring businesses to raise pay for workers, are concerned other occupations would want pay increases and consider it to be an union issue.

Grocery store employees recently testified at council meetings and sent emails to council members requesting a pay hike of $5 per hour through a hazardous pay ordinance due to COVID-19. The cities of Seattle, Burien, Edmonds and Olympia have approved pay-increase measures. The King County Council approved a measure for stores in unincorporated areas of the county.

“I hear what they’re asking for, COVID-19 had an impact to everybody no matter the work force,” Councilmember Bill Boyce said at the April 13 meeting. “But this could open the door to Pandora’s box. It’s a slippery slope who you say yes or no to, and it’s outside the realm of the council. …I support unions, and this is something to fall back on the union.”

Councilmember Satwinder Kaur was the only one who voiced potential support for an ordinance to raise pay during the pandemic.

“Grocery workers came to the council to ask for assistance,” said Kaur, who requested that the council discuss the issue at its meeting. “I’m in favor of looking at this, and limit it to employees at the larger stores.”

Bryan Gilderoy, a produce clerk at the Kent East Hill Fred Meyer store who has led the drive to get the council’s support for a pay hike, came away disappointed with the council discussion.

“My team and I have watched the committee meeting and are shocked by the news,” Gilderoy said in an April 16 email. “We are shaking our heads with disbelief that the council is so out of touch with this issue. We just don’t understand why Edmonds, Olympia, Burien, Seattle, unincorporated King County and others were able to see the need for this ordinance but Kent does not and decided to label it as a union issue. We are not just fighting for the union shops, we are fighting for everyone.”

Gilderoy said there are over 11 grocery stores in the Kent city limits that a law will affect if targeted at larger stores with more than 300 workers nationwide. He said Trader Joe’s employees are already getting hazard pay thanks in part to the efforts of passing hazard pay in Seattle. He said six out of the 11 larger grocery stores in Kent are union.

“Their parent companies are multi-billion dollar companies who have made billions,” Gilderoy said. “They have given out to upper management billions in bonuses in this pandemic while we only ‘enjoyed’ $2 hazard pay for about the first four months. Our last payment was mid-May of 2020. Fred Meyer has issued three $100 store credit bonuses to us since then.”

Councilmember Les Thomas said he opposes a city-imposed pay hike.

“It doesn’t seem like we as a government should be involved in business,” Thomas said.

Council members Brenda Fincher, Marli Larimer, Zandria Michaud and Toni Troutner agreed the union should handle the issue.

Gilderoy said the union has tried to negotiate hazard pay increases.

“Fact is the city council called this a union matter,” he said. “Well what about the non-union stores, and what about the grocery workers in those stores? If the city council had actually returned the phone calls and emails from UFCW21 (the union) they would have known that UFCW has been bargaining an emergency contract for over a year now with little to no progress.”

Despite the setback, store employees plan to continue their fight. He said 280 workers have signed a petition for the council to approve the pay increase.

“Our next steps are to reach out to individual city council members, speak at the next city council meeting and have an informational drive,” Gilderoy said.

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