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Lynnwood Councilmembers get an earful on hazard pay

LYNNWOOD, Wash. – A small but passionate group of people spoke out in favor of hazard pay in the city of Lynnwood for grocery store workers during Monday’s city council meeting.

Debbie Gaff from the Local 38 chapter of the Teamsters, which represents grocery store workers, told council members that the pandemic is not over and that Lynnwood needs to follow in the steps of Edmonds and Olympia, which have approved hazard pay for grocery store workers.

“Some of your critics would say that the government does not belong in setting wages for private employees,” Gaff said. “May I remind you that the minimum wage is set by elected officials?”

Danell Ellingson, a worker at the Lynnwood QFC, described the everyday conditions of workers at grocery stores.

“What we go through every day, when we go to work: We are monitoring for mask use, because some customers don’t use them. We are doing extra cleaning…customers lower their mask to talk to you instead of talking louder. It’s not any safer in the store today than when they stopped paying us hazard pay.”

Companies stopped paying hazard pay in mid-2020, Gaff said, while Adrianna Foss Nyberg, who works for a grocery store, could not contain her emotion while talking about the last five months of her life.

“I live with my husband, child and granddaughter, who was born in December of 2020. My entire family got COVID and the next few weeks were the most terrifying of my life,” Foss said. “The worst was knowing that I was probably the one who brought it home.”

In addition to her personal struggles, Foss spoke of the struggles at the grocery store at which she works. Turnover is high, regular employees are getting sick and some customers are rude and violent to them.

“It’s become a job I fear going to every day,” said Brian Smith, a coworker of Foss’. The grocery workers are seeking an extra four dollars per hour.

“While four bucks won’t solve our problems, it would encourage people to apply for jobs at a grocery store,” Foss said.

Although the council took no action on the subject, a few of the city’s leaders commented on the subject later on in the meeting. Council member Shannon Sessions said grocery store owners should handle the topic.

“I don’t understand why, with the amount of revenue they have made they are not continuing (hazard pay) through COVID,” Sessions said. “I’m not really sure the city government is the proper place to make these decisions.”

Council member Ruth Ross said, “I do think it may take some type of encouragement from the city for grocery store owners to work through this.”

In other city news:

  • Council member Christine Frizzell said South Lynnwood Park is closing this Friday until next year and it’s reopening with six pickleball courts. “It’ll be great when that reopens, in the most diverse part of Lynnwood,” Frizzell said.
  • The council voted 6-0 to approve an amendment to the municipal code, section 10.52.010, which adds four stipulations to the municipal code regarding illegal firearm purchases, in order to update the municipal code to incorporate what has been adopted by the state.
  • Council president George Hurst reminded his colleagues that council recognized the hard work of senior staff and directors during the pandemic by offering administrative staff leave days. He suggested that such gesture be extended to staffers who are not senior staff.
  • Mayor Nicola Smith reminded those in attendance that COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Snohomish County. “This is not the path that keeps you in Phase 3. We ask you to take all the measures: get vaccinated, keep social distance, wear your mask.” Lastly, Smith noted that half a million eligible residents of Snohomish County have been vaccinated fully. “That’s one out of three people in the county. A pretty incredible accomplishment in less than five months.”

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