By Tammie Hetrick | President & CEO at Washington Food Industry Association

Business owners I know don’t hesitate in dangerous situations. If someone, or something, poses a risk to the safety of their customers or staff, they act immediately to mitigate that risk. 

But a new measure approved 6-2 by the Seattle City Council on Aug. 8 will delay or discourage that action, creating needless safety issues and potentially harmful situations.

At issue is whether app-based companies should be allowed to immediately remove or “deactivate” independent contract workers from service. Situations where a business or customer would need to complain about the behavior of an app-based worker are exceedingly rare, but it’s important to know that serious complaints are dealt with immediately.

The approved measure requires delivery companies to give workers 14 days’ notice before they can stop offering them deliveries, except where they have engaged in egregious misconduct.

What’s more, the new ordinance will give private contractors access to private information about a customer who files a complaint that leads to deactivation – an unheard of provision for other workers. By giving drivers information that can identify who lodged complaints, it will make people think twice before reporting an issue. If workers in our small businesses know their reports of misconduct will no longer be private, or could lead to retaliation, their incentive for calling out bad actors is gone. 

The stakes could not be higher: we’re talking about efforts to keep people safe.

This new standard sets a dangerous precedent for other businesses and for the customers they serve. Retailers have come to partner with app-based businesses to deliver groceries safely to their customers. Our members — independent grocers, convenience stores and neighborhood stores — collaborate with them because they provide a valuable service. They trust these companies and the processes they have in place to safely manage deliveries, and act immediately in the face of safety concerns.

As we’ve seen time and again, potential safety threats must be addressed quickly to avoid escalation and serious harm. So taking steps to interfere with how a private business handles a potential safety concern is worrisome on multiple levels.

Our member stores, many of which are family-owned small businesses, operate on slim margins and do not have the resources to invest in significant security systems. They want customers to have a pleasant and peaceful experience while shopping, but with crime rising in cities like Seattle, they’ve had to put more thought into how to make sure their stores are safe. It’s unsettling to think we’ve gotten to this point just to buy groceries.

Unfortunately though, our communities have become more violent. Many of our member stores in some of these higher crime areas are seriously weighing whether it’s worth keeping their doors open because, right now, most of them are operating at a loss. Consumers are feeling the same risks–a recent survey shows that Seattle residents are growing more pessimistic about public safety. Adding to their existing safety concerns will not make matters better.

We’ve all seen the footage on TV or heard stories about stores being trashed or customers being subject to angry outbursts (and worse) from other customers or employees. We’ve seen workplace violence play out time and again. Handing over customer data to a disgruntled worker could produce tragic outcomes at a store or a customer’s front door.

Public safety requires immediate action, not a long process. The council’s new ordinance interferes with our ability to proactively head off a potentially dangerous situation, and creates barriers and disincentives for businesses looking to keep employees, and customers, safe.

And right now, safety matters.

Tammie Hetrick is the president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association, representing independent grocers, neighborhood stores and convenience stores.