Hazard Pay in the Union Crosshairs

Is stocking the shelves of a grocery store during a pandemic equivalent to a fireman running into a burning building or a law enforcement officer taking down someone who has a loaded weapon? How about just going to work in an office building when the rest of the county is being advised to stay home? Should that merit a pay bump?

The answer probably depends on who you ask, and right now a lot of people are asking about hazard pay: what exactly it is and who should get it.

Here’s the Department of Labor’s definition of “hazard pay”:

Hazard pay means additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship. Work duty that causes extreme physical discomfort and distress which is not adequately alleviated by protective devices is deemed to impose a physical hardship. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address the subject of hazard pay, except to require that it be included as part of a federal employee’s regular rate of pay in computing the employee’s overtime pay.

Grocery store workers with Safeway/Albertsons and Kroger are negotiating new provisions in their contracts that are triggering pay raises for workers who are employed during the Coronavirus pandemic. According to a report from NBC’s affiliate in Washington State, Kroger’s new provisions include a total hazard pay of $300 for those working full time and a total hazard pay of $150 for those working less than full time both of which will take effect in April. Read the account here.

Meanwhile, in Northern California, representatives of unions whose members include public sector managers, receptionists, engineers, clerks and customer service reps, say they too are entitled to hazard pay. Because they are not allowed to work at home, the argument goes, these workers  are incurring additional risk and should therefore be compensated accordingly.

That line of reasoning isn’t going over too well in some corners. The Deputy Sheriff’s Association, for example, thinks the request is unreasonable.

“The Deputy Sheriff’s Association is extremely upset about union leadership in Contra Costa County asking for money in this crisis,” Union president Shawn Welch told KTVU. “This is ridiculous. We are public servants. Serve the public and do your part. We didn’t ask for more during the fires. This is what we do.”

The president of International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 has been in touch with officials from Contra Costa County over the issue. The County is considering the issue and debating measures such as increasing leave time.

We’ll see how this one shakes out.

Read the full story here.

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