by Eric Pereira / staff writer
Washington was the first state to face COVID-19, and it continues to work toward finding remedies for the effects of the pandemic. For the Washington Food Industry Association, one of the legislative priorities is unemployment.
“One of our biggest projects this interim is helping our members with the employment challenges our industry is facing,” said Tammie Hetrick, president and CEO of the association.
Hetrick, who recently succeeded longtime former leader Jan Gee at the helm of the WFIA, also serves on the state’s Unemployment Insurance Advisory Committee.
There are many career opportunities in the grocery and convenience store industries, according to Hetrick, who added, “We will be working with the governor’s office and local WorkSource offices to develop outreach and education to better understand how a career in grocery can benefit a variety of workers.”
Hetrick foresees WFIA pursuing relief for employers on future rates.
“This is something we’re actually going to be working on for at least the next four years, every legislative session,” she said. “We are going to have to come back and revisit and figure out where we’re at and what relief we can provide to employers.”
WFIA also is monitoring federal spending and what will happen with additional monies to aid in the impact of increases in unemployment taxes for employers.
On a local level, Hetrick has shifted gears to help city councils better understand the effects hazard pay measures have on grocers. It is key, she said, to get the message out that independent grocers are not seeing record profits and there are increased costs for inventory. She added that several larger corporate chains have been exempted from such actions.
“It’s frustrating, because we’re already challenged, trying to compete with them,” she said. “And then we’re being asked to pay more money when we already paid on average more per hour than some of those bigger stores.”
In regard to 2021 goals, the association has a staff retreat in June, which presents the opportunity to brainstorm.
“We know we, as an organization, want to have more education and outreach for members…I’ve been working very hard with SNAP online…we have members who are going to be rolling that out really soon. And that’s huge for us to be able to participate and compete with some of the other big grocers in that arena.”
Supply chain also remains an issue, with not all orders being fulfilled, according to Hetrick.
“What I’m hearing from my suppliers and my members is they’re getting about 75 percent of what they order – if they’re lucky…we’re challenged, because my members aren’t necessarily getting those items at the same price point as some of those really big national groups that can kind of strong-arm better rates or so.”
She expects this scenario to continue to unfold, as well as monitoring a raise in meat prices. An association member recently told her that beef prices will “go through the roof,” putting a strain on chicken and pork.
In regard to reopening the state, Hetrick suspects that will be a slow process.
“We keep having counties roll back. And our governor is taking a very cautious approach. The other concern is, you know, this ties with a lot of things that are going on, but one of those was hazard pay,” she said.
“Ours don’t have end dates and they don’t have timeframes. They are going until the end of the state of emergency. That’s a huge concern, because I just don’t see our governor ending [that] anytime soon.”