By BRETT DAVIS
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — In one of her last official acts as mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan will veto city council legislation to end the additional $4 an hour of hazard pay for grocery store workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Seattle City Council voted 8-0 last week to end the requirement in recognition of “considerable progress made toward supporting the health and safety of frontline workers and community through high rates of vaccinations and reduced numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” the bill summary states.
“Now is not the time to roll back the pay for these critical front-line workers,” Mayor Durkan said Wednesday in a prepared statement defending her veto plans, citing the omicron variant and rising infection rates. “In a time that there are no good choices, there are decisions we can make to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of our residents, and hazard pay is one of the key city policies that have supported workers who have supported all of us.”
Given the eight votes for repeal, the city council theoretically has enough votes to override Mayor Durkan’s veto, though there has been some public vacillation. Councilmembers did not respond to emails from The Center Square asking if they would vote to override the mayor’s veto.
Fresh from surviving a recall effort last week by a margin of 310 votes, socialist Councilmember and frequent political foe Kshama Sawant praised Mayor Durkan’s veto.
Ms. Sawant said the vote was a “capitulation” from “self-described progressive Democrats in the interests of big business,” reported the Seattle Times.
Ms. Sawant, who was a co-sponsor of the legislation providing hazard pay to grocery store employees, was absent from last week’s vote to repeal the hazard pay ordinance.
After the vote to repeal the legislation, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored both the original hazard pay ordinance and the repeal, indicated that she has changed her mind again.
“In the last week, the emergence, prevalence and severity of COVID has increased due to the Omicron variant,” Ms. Mosqueda explained in a Wednesday statement. “We have also received new public health guidance and advice, evolving as late as last Friday. We are now seeing the effects the Omicron variant will have on our population’s health and the elevated risk grocery store workers will face in the months ahead. It’s with these new developments that hazard pay will remain in place.”
Councilmember Lisa Herbold voted for repeal, but now supports Mayor Durkan’s veto.
“Public health is the number one priority,” Ms. Herbold said in a prepared statement. “And as we continue to get updated advice from Public Health officials we should react quickly to protect the health and safety of our constituents.”
The Seattle City Council voted 8-0 last January to approve the mandatory hazard pay for the duration of the pandemic.
Mayor Durkan initially sought re-election to a second term but withdrew last December due to the economic impact of COVID and civil unrest in Seattle.
Mayor-Elect Bruce Harrell will take office on Jan. 1, 2022.
Brett Davis covers Washington state for The Center Square.