Newsletter — February 8, 2024






WR Board Meets in Olympia to discuss legislative priorities

The Washington Retail Association (WR) held its annual winter board of directors meeting in Olympia, Washington, chaired by Alesha Shemwell, Director of Retail for the Bellevue Collection. The board welcomed new members Marissa Wulf, CEO of Mud Bay, Chauncey Rice, Target Director of Government Affairs, and celebrated the retirement of Theresa Treat, VP of People Services for Ben Bridge Jeweler.

The meeting included legislative meetings with democrats and republicans representing districts across the state. The board discussed priority issues such as:

  • Creating safe communities and tackling retail theft and organized retail crime. Representatives Maycumber and Boehnke have strongly supported legislation to increase penalties for multiple accomplices and in support of I-2113 to restore police vehicle pursuit.

  • Extended producer responsibility and the current ReWRAP Act legislation and bottling bill. Debbie Heron, Walmart’s Director of Public Affairs and State Government Relations, shared WR member concerns about passing a broad and robust bill during a short 60-day session and adopting a beverage container recycling program, HB 2144.

  • Artificial Intelligence and the need for a task force to represent retail interests. Eric Douglas, Director of Government Affairs for the Home Depot, expressed support for HB 1934 as long as retail is represented on the task force. Board members met with Representative Couture, prime sponsor, and Representative Walen, committee chair and co-sponsor of the legislation.

The board also met with Pat Sullivan, Policy Director for Governor Inslee and Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, and received a micro tour of the State Capital.

WR’s 20-member Board of Directors is comprised of a strategic mix of multi-state and Washington-based retailers. The Association represents approximately 3,500 storefronts across the state in all 49 legislative districts.

2nd Annual Legislative Retail Reception hosts retail advocates from across the state

On February 1, the historic Lord Mansion in Olympia, Washington, was filled with the sounds of a talented professional string trio from the Olympia Symphony Orchestra and the lively chatter of over 100 guests gathering on behalf of the retail industry.

The event was sponsored by WR (Washington Retail Association), ICSC, and WBPA (Washington Business Properties Association). Alesha Shemwell, WR Board Chair and active ICSC and WBPA board member provided opening remarks along with Chet Baldwin, Executive Director of Washington Business Properties Association.

Although the three associations have unique challenges and specific policies of interest, the shared priority to create safe and vibrant communities that allow our retailers, businesses, employees, and customers to thrive is a top focus for all three organizations.

Retail partners, including chambers of commerce, the Olympia Downtown Alliance, the Attorney General’s office, and dozens of retailers and community stakeholders, joined together to address one of the most pressing issues facing the retail industry, marketplace, and employers. The serious and growing impacts of property crimes, retail thefts, and organized retail crime demand our attention, requiring cooperation and action.

Joint priorities include the support of the following legislation:

  • Grant Funding Budget Proviso – funding of approximately $500,000 to support small businesses to secure theft protection.
  • SB 5056 – increases penalties for habitual and repeat offenders involved in organized retail crime.
  • SB 6242 – incentivizes local municipalities to attract and retain law enforcement and reduce the cost of training officers.
  •  HB 1800 – provides that a court may convict a criminal of malicious mischief or criminal street gang tagging and graffiti, offering community restitution.
  • I-2113 - restore safe police vehicle pursuits for reasonable suspicion that a suspect has violated the law or poses a threat to the safety of others.

What we are tracking — WR Legislative Hot List

Washington Recycling and Packaging (WRAP) Act (HB 2049)

  • Focus: Defines 'producer' to put manufacturers at the top of the responsibility chart and retailers at a lower position, preventing them from paying for packaging and recycling for every item on their shelves.
  • Status: In committee waiting for a vote. Facing opposition from many stakeholders, WR expressed our concerns that this program is too broad and uncertain to adopt in a short 60-day Session.
  • Referred to Rules 2/5/2024

Unemployment Insurance (UI) for Striking Workers (SB 5777/HB 1893)

  • Allows for striking workers to collect unemployment insurance benefits
  • WR is opposed to these bills
  • Status: SB 5777 placed on 2nd reading by Rules Committee on 1/24/2024; HB 1893 Referred to Rules on 2/5/2024

Incentives for Return to Work (SB 5368) (HB 2127)            

  • Changes: SB 5368 allows small businesses to partner with local nonprofits to provide light-duty return-to-work opportunities; HB 2127 increases the reimbursement rate for businesses that provide a light-duty return-to-work opportunity for an injured worker.
  • WR supports these bills
  • Status: SB 5368 passed Senate 44-4; In House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. HB 2127 passed House of Representatives 2/7; referred to Senate Labor and Commerce.

Repeat Offenders (SB 5056)             

  • Proposal: Allows a court to sentence a habitual property offender to an additional 24 months for a Class B felony, and an additional 12 months for a Class C felony
  • WR supports this bill
  • Status: Scheduled for public hearing in the House Committee on Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Feb 14 (Subject to change).

Legislature turns focus to floor action

The Legislature has passed two significant cut-off dates for the Policy and Fiscal Committees. Now, its attention is entirely on floor action to move House bills to the Senate and Senate bills to the House. All this needs to be done by end of day on February 13. This means there will likely be some very late evenings, early mornings, and weekends.


There are far too many bills in the Rules Committees and on the calendars than either chamber can process. Most of the bills will go the wayside simply from lack of time. The majority party has to decide which bills are a priority to pass, which can wait until the next session, and which they disagree with. The minority party does not get to decide which bills are eventually brought up for a vote, but the one bit of leverage they do have is time. If they don’t like a bill the majority wants to vote on, they can simply offer countless amendments and long floor speeches. The majority party cannot limit how many amendments and how many of the minority party speak. This all takes time. The majority party must decide if the bill in question is worth the investment of time. If so, it would mean other bills will go the wayside as time runs out.


Come February 13 – House of Origin cut-off – the majority party often saves a highly controversial bill as the last bill of the day – or a “special order of consideration,” knowing it will take many hours to get through the amendments and speeches. Legislative rules allow that once a bill is brought up it can be debated for any duration of time – even into the next day.


WR will be on the hill communicating with Legislators on bills our members want to see pass and on measures we hope won’t come up for a vote. It is exceedingly rare—if not unheard of—for a bill to be brought up on the floor for a vote and fail. If the majority party doesn’t have the votes to pass something, they simply don’t hold a vote on it.


After February 13, the thousands of bills that were first introduced will be boiled down to a few hundred that are still in play. The one disclaimer is that bills considered “necessary to implement the budget” are immune from all cut-offs and can be considered until they adjourn. The House and Senate budgets have yet to be released.

House Republican Leader Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, speaks during a rally to urge Democratic lawmakers to hold hearings to consider six GOP initiatives on Wednesday in Olympia. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Legislature considers next steps as six initiatives advance

The Washington State Legislature is currently addressing a series of six initiatives that pose challenges to existing Democratic policies. Among these, WR supports four, including I-2109, a repeal of the capital gains tax; I-2111, a clear prohibition of income taxes; I-2113, which would restore police officers’ ability to pursue vehicles; and I-2124, a repeal of Washington’s long-term care tax.

The Legislature has three options for each initiative: pass it as is, propose an alternative for the ballot, or take no action, leaving the decision to the voters. Democrats, who are in the majority, are proceeding cautiously, focusing on understanding the financial and legal impacts of these initiatives. They are particularly concerned about the potential negative consequences on the state’s budget and legal framework.

On the other hand, Republicans are pushing for swift action and public hearings. They argue that these initiatives deserve prompt consideration, emphasizing the need for a transparent debate on their merits.

This situation underscores the ongoing tension between direct democracy, where citizens have the power to propose and vote on laws, and representative democracy, where elected officials make policy decisions. It brings to the forefront questions about how the Legislature should handle citizen-initiated proposals, especially those that directly conflict with established policies and have significant budgetary and legal implications.

The Legislature’s response to these initiatives, particularly those strongly supported by WR, will not only determine the immediate fate of these policies but also influence how similar initiatives are managed in the future.

Read in-depth on

With no sign of recession, labor market and interest rates to play major roles in 2024

After a better-than-expected performance in 2023, what happens with the economy in 2024 could depend largely on the labor market and what the Federal Reserve does with interest rates, National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said today.

“Federal Reserve officials have tough policy choices ahead as they decide on what to do and when,” Kleinhenz said. “There is still a risk that keeping rates too high could curb the economy’s momentum more than necessary. Yet if they lower rates too soon, it could allow the economy to re-inflate and make it harder to contain inflation pressures.”

“I remain of the view that consumer spending will continue to grow, but at a rate slightly below overall GDP growth,” Kleinhenz said. “Consumers were in decent shape heading into the holiday season, but the labor markets, while unlikely to unravel, do look likely to cool, which would impact consumer expectations and, in turn, affect spending decisions.”

Kleinhenz’s comments came in the February issue of NRF’s Monthly Economic Review, which said the economy “has been more resilient than expected” and shows “no sign of a recession,” citing the 3.3% annual growth in gross domestic product for the fourth quarter and 2.5% for the year. Disposable personal income was up 6.9% year over year in December and retail sales as defined by NRF – excluding automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – were up 3.3%. November-December holiday sales were up 3.8% over 2022, easily meeting NRF’s forecast for 3-4% growth.

Read the rest of the NRF article

January jobs surge challenges Fed, defies slowdown predictions

The January jobs report has made it clear that the labor market is exceptionally strong, contradicting earlier predictions of a slowdown. In January 2024, the economy added 353,000 jobs, the highest in a year, following a revised increase of 333,000 jobs in December, which was 117,000 more than initially estimated. This indicates a consistent pattern of strong hiring.

The significance of this job growth is varied. Employers are hiring aggressively, unemployment remains low at 3.7%, and wage growth is outstripping inflation. The unemployment rate has been under 4% for two years, a situation not seen since the late 1960s. Wages increased by 0.6% last month, with a 4.5% rise over the past year, suggesting that wages are likely to outpace inflation.

However, this strong job market poses challenges for the Federal Reserve, especially regarding interest rate decisions. The robust job growth and wage increases make it difficult for the Fed to lower interest rates. The Fed is cautious, wanting to ensure inflation is under control before making rate cuts. The strong labor market could keep inflation pressures high, especially as other factors that helped lower prices start to diminish.

Despite these challenges, the White House views the strong job market and wage growth positively, not overly concerned about them leading to inflation. They argue that the best measure of inflation is the inflation rate itself.

In essence, the American labor market is showing remarkable strength and resilience, presenting both opportunities and challenges. While it's good news for workers, it complicates the Fed's efforts to manage inflation and interest rates. Balancing job market growth with inflation control will be a key focus for policymakers moving forward.

Amazon rebounds with $30B profit in 2023, driven by faster deliveries and AI innovations

In a significant turnaround from the previous year's loss, Amazon announced a net income of $30.4 billion for 2023, shining a spotlight on the company's growth and strategic advancements. This significant profit, up from a $2.7 billion loss in 2022, was driven by a combination of faster package deliveries, the burgeoning interest in generative AI, and cost reductions achieved through workforce adjustments.

The fourth quarter of 2023 was particularly strong for Amazon, with a net income of $10.6 billion, a substantial increase from the $300 million reported in the same period the previous year. This surge was attributed to a record-breaking holiday shopping season and operational efficiencies, including a 45-cent reduction in the cost to serve per item, a first since 2018. Amazon's CEO, Andy Jassy, highlighted the company's focus on improving delivery speeds and reducing operational costs as key factors in this success.

Amazon's strategic shift to a regional fulfillment network, dividing the country into eight regions to store products closer to customers, has paid off with the fastest delivery speeds in the company's history. Over 7 billion units were delivered on the same or next day in 2023, underscoring Amazon's commitment to customer satisfaction and operational excellence.

Innovation remained a foundational aspect of Amazon's strategy, with the company making significant strides in generative AI. The introduction of Amazon Q, a corporate chatbot, the next-generation AI chip Trainium2, and the AI shopping assistant Rufus, are testament to Amazon's commitment to integrating AI across its operations.

Despite the impressive financial performance, Amazon remains focused on further improving its services and reducing costs. The company's ongoing efforts to enhance inventory placement and inbound processes are aimed at delivering even greater value to customers. With a forward-looking approach and continuous innovation, Amazon is well-positioned for sustained growth and success in the evolving digital landscape.

Backlash surfaces against Seattle's new app-based minimum compensation law

When the app-based worker minimum compensation law took effect on January 13, Mayor Bruce Harrell praised it as an important protection for workers. Now, less than a month after the law's implementation date, an intense backlash is already beginning to take shape from the workers it was intended to help.

KING5-TV heard directly from drivers who are seeing a steep decline in the number of orders to deliver and, as a result, their earnings. Despite the law's minimum hourly pay of $26.40 – plus $.74 per mile driven – these drivers have experienced a precipitous drop in earnings.

According to driver Mia Shagen, lunch orders used to end at 2:30 pm or 3:00 pm. The orders now stop at 1 pm. "So literally at like one o'clock, suddenly, there are no orders anymore."

One driver told KING5 that he made $931 during the first week of February 2023 but only $464.81 during the same week in 2024. As one longtime, app-based food delivery driver in Seattle, Gary Lardizabal, said to KING5, "We're grinding. And we are for real not getting $26 an hour."

On February 6, three drivers took their concerns directly to the Seattle City Council. During the public comment period, they told the Council that their earnings were cratering and asked the Council to repeal the law.

We will keep you informed of what the City Council does in response to these workers' concerns.

Using personal protective equipment correctly

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) plays an essential role in preventing injuries. From hard hats and safety goggles to earplugs and gloves, PPE shields employees from hazards lurking in their work environment.

Despite its importance, we often see workers neglecting to wear PPE, putting themselves and others at risk. Let’s consider some reasons workers are unwilling to use their PPE, how it can affect them and others, and ways to motivate consistent PPE usage.


  • Lack of Awareness: Sometimes, employees simply lack awareness about the significance of PPE. Educating them about the risks and benefits can bridge this gap. Proper training on PPE use and maintenance is crucial. The lack of understanding can often breed dangerous workplace practices.


  • Discomfort: Uncomfortable PPE is a common deterrent. Safety glasses that pinch, poorly fitted gloves, or ear protection causing irritation—these discomforts can often discourage PPE usage, especially when women are required to wear men’s garments.

  • Inconvenience: Cumbersome PPE can lead to noncompliance. The hassle of wearing and removing multiple layers may tempt employees to skip it altogether.


  • Lack of Enforcement: When PPE rules aren’t enforced consistently, employees may perceive them as optional. Strong enforcement reinforces the message that safety matters.


  • Perception of Invincibility: Some workers believe accidents won’t happen to them. Highlighting real-life incidents can shatter this illusion.


  • Peer Pressure: Social dynamics play a role. If colleagues don’t wear PPE, others might follow suit. Encourage a collective commitment to safety.


  • Limited Availability: When PPE isn’t readily accessible, compliance suffers. Ensure easy access to gear and consider providing samples for employees to try.


  • Low Perceived Value: Employees must understand that PPE directly impacts their well-being. Communicate its value effectively.


To motivate consistent PPE use, involve employees in selecting comfortable gear. Their input fosters ownership and reinforces compliance. Remember, management must lead by example—walking the safety talk sets the tone of workplace culture. For a proper understanding of what PPE is needed for a task, see this article.

Our safety team is available to help members improve their safety programs beyond compliance and toward quality safety practices. Contact us at to learn more.

WR diversity statement

WR is committed to the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. We strive to create a safe, welcoming environment in which these principles can thrive.

We value all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or disability, and that is the foundation of our commitment to those we serve.

Washington Retail Staff

Renée Sunde, President/CEO — 360.200.6450 — Email

Mark Johnson, Sr. VP of Policy & Government Affairs — 360.943.0667 — Email

Crystal Leatherman, State & Local GA Manager — 360.200-6453 — Email

Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations & Retail Services — 360.200.6452 — Email

Robert B. Haase, Director of Communications — 360.753.8742 — Email