Newsletter — March 21, 2024








Governor Inslee signs SB 5838 establishing AI Task Force with retail industry representation

On Monday, March 18, 2024, Governor Inslee signed SB 5838 into law, which will establish an artificial intelligence (AI) taskforce.

The task force, supported by the Attorney General’s Office, brings together a diverse group of participants from a mix of industries and organizations to discuss concerns and opportunities with AI and generative AI and provide meaningful and productive recommendations to the legislature.

WR strongly advocated for retails inclusion on the task force. Through these efforts, WR secured a retail representative position on the executive committee, ensuring that the industry’s unique needs and potential for AI-driven growth are represented during policy discussions.

The retail industry has been one of the earliest adopters of AI technology and will bring a vital perspective to the task force.

Washington State's workers' comp costs soar

Nestled in the Pacific Northwest, Washington State faces a stark reality: it holds the dubious honor of having the highest workers' compensation benefit costs nationwide.

According to the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), in 2021, the average cost per covered worker reached $849.67, outpacing all other states. Despite robust wage growth, benefit costs surged by 13.0% from 2017 to 2021, a trend observed in only 12 states. While NASI's delayed report leaves critical questions unanswered regarding Washington's supplemental pension fund, recent actions by the Department of Labor & Industries reflect concerns. In 2024, average workers' compensation premium rates rose by 4.9%, albeit below the break-even rate, necessitating the use of contingency reserve funds.

These challenges underscore the imperative for strategic reforms to ensure fair and sustainable support for Washington's workforce. From legislative chambers to factory floors, the story of soaring workers' compensation costs serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between economic prosperity and the well-being of those who propel it forward.

Read the report: Workers’ Compensation: Benefits, Costs, and Coverage

Three out of five industries considered for ergonomic rulemaking are linked to retail

The passage of ESSB 5217 in 2023 the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to adopt rules for one industry or risk classification in any 12-month period will take effect on July 1, 2026. After a short two-week criteria solicitation, L&I announced the five industries/risk classes selected for rulemaking potentials and their compensable musculoskeletal rate on March 15.

*Compensable claims involve wage replacement for lost work time (four or more days), total/partial permanent disability, fatality, or a worker kept on salary by the employer during short-term disability.


L&I will be reviewing this data with the WISHA Advisory Committee and the Workers Compensation Advisory Committee (WCAC) over the next few weeks. L&I’s goal is to select the industry/risk class for rulemaking by May 1, 2024, and initiate rulemaking in July 2024. The legislation requires L&I to convene an advisory committee during rulemaking with an equal number of employers and workers in the impacted industry/risk class.

During this legislation's passage, WR advocated to secure ergonomic consultation assistance for businesses. Since ergonomic rulemaking is unprecedented, the type of assistance to be provided is still in the process of development. An industry showing a downward trend in the rate of such claims greater than the statewide average could be a mitigating factor in L&I’s selection consideration. Therefore, it is crucial for businesses in these five industry/risk classes to mitigate musculoskeletal injuries proactively to lower their rate trend.

Retailers in these selected industries are encouraged to contact L&I for ergonomics consultation HERE

Washington State launches Battery Stewardship Program for enhanced recycling 

Washington State is poised to implement a Battery Stewardship Program starting January 1, 2027, mandating producers to participate in approved recycling plans under Chapter 70A.555 RCW. The Department of Ecology (Ecology) has initiated rulemaking for Chapter 173-905 WAC to provide clear directives for compliance.

Ecology's rulemaking covers defining terms, outlining plan prerequisites, setting reporting standards, determining program fees, and establishing performance benchmarks. The program aims to standardize battery recycling efforts and increase opportunities statewide.

Encompassing various battery types, from small button cells to rechargeable ones, the program aims to boost recycling rates significantly. However, certain categories like medical device batteries are excluded.

Environmental justice is central, with Ecology conducting an Environmental Justice Assessment (EJA) in line with regulations. Public feedback will be sought before finalization.

To stay updated, visit dedicated webpages and subscribe to updates. Queries can be directed to Chris Fredley at or 564-233-1615.

Rulemaking webpage 

Battery stewardship webpage

Plastic producer registration and reports due April 1

The Washington State recycled content regulations mandate that producers of covered products must register and report annually by April 1st using the Waste Reduction Portal.

As of January 2024, producers of plastic trash bags and beverages must submit annual reports detailing the quantity of Post-consumer Recycled Content (PCRC) used in their products to demonstrate compliance with minimum requirements. Failure to submit registration and reports by the deadline will result in penalties.

Producers can self-identify as "De minimis producers" but are encouraged to provide responses to resin and revenue questions to ensure visibility on the public Plastic Producer List.

Accessing registration requires creating a Secure Access Washington (SAW) account.

If the producer's account already exists, users may request access to that account by selecting "find an existing producer."

Questions can be directed to or by phone at 360-742-9874.

February retail sales bounce back in census data

In a narrative of resilience and consumer confidence, the latest chapter of the retail story unveils February's resurgence in sales, as unveiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. Led by the National Retail Federation's Chief Economist, Jack Kleinhenz, the narrative paints a picture of a robust economy, where despite challenges like tight credit and inflation, consumers continue to wield their purchasing power, breathing life into the retail landscape.

The data tells a compelling tale: a 0.6% increase in overall retail sales compared to January, with core retail sales climbing by 0.2%, signaling a 5.5% year-over-year growth. With each page turned, the numbers showcase a journey of growth and momentum, reminding us of the enduring strength found in the heart of consumer spending.

Read more:

Easter spending projected to exceed $22 Billion in 2024

In the vibrant world of retail, Easter emerges as a beacon of tradition and renewal, with spending projected to exceed $22 billion in 2024. Led by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics, this forecast paints a picture of eager consumers ready to embrace cherished customs.

With 81% of Americans committed to celebrating, each person plans to spend an average of $177.06, ensuring festive baskets and joyful gatherings. Food takes the lead at $7.3 billion, closely followed by clothing and gifts, while discount stores prove popular for Easter shopping adventures.

Even non-celebrants are enticed by holiday sales, reflecting Easter's universal appeal. Retailers large and small are crafting strategies that capture the essence of Easter's magic and ensure a prosperous season for all.

Read more:

New report affirms retail's dominance in private sector

A recent report by the National Retail Federation (NRF) highlights the growth and resilience of the retail industry. With over 55 million jobs in 2022, it remains the largest private-sector employer, playing a vital role in the nation's economy.

From small boutiques to large chains, the retail sector reflects diversity and inclusion across the country. While corporate giants dominate, it's the contribution of small businesses that enriches the industry's fabric, showcasing resilience and adaptability in the face of challenges.

The NRF's report provides valuable insights into the industry's future, reaffirming its significance in American prosperity. Each transaction symbolizes growth, innovation, and community, shaping the narrative of retail.

Full report: The Economic Contribution of the U.S. Retail Industry

Downtown Seattle Association’s “State of Downtown” draws large crowd

On March 7, more than 1,000 people gathered in the new Seattle Convention Center to hear about the State of Downtown from numerous community leaders.

Jon Scholes, President & CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, which organized the event, gave an overview of his organization’s annual Report on downtown. The Report includes a report card that examines several measures of economy health and vitality for downtown.

On the plus side, the report card found continued growth in the number of people living downtown (74% growth since 2010 to 106,116) and upward movement on the number of downtown jobs as they slowly recover from the steep Covid decline. The number of retail jobs painted a less favorable picture as 2023 figures reveal a drop below Covid-era numbers.

Axios Seattle took a look at some of the other information contained in the DSA Report.


Seattle City Council President Sara Nelson also addressed the event, giving her perspective on the priorities of the newly-elected Council. President Nelson emphasized that the Council and its staff are now back in their offices, hoping the set an example for the city and county governments.

As editorial board member, Alex Fryer, noted in The Seattle Times, nonessential City employees are only required to work in the office two days a week. King County has no uniform back-to-office policy and enough county employees are working from home that the County closed its Administration Building in 2021. Fryer made it clear that downtown activation requires a full-time return to office by the 12,000 employees who work for the City and County.

Other speakers included Joy Shigaki (Friends of Waterfront Seattle), Elliott Bay Connections, and a public safety panel discussion with City Attorney Ann Davison, Police Chief Adrian Diaz, Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) Chief Amy Smith and moderated by KING5-TV’s Chris Daniels.

Seattle's tourism thrives amid downtown's recovery struggles

Seattle's tourism industry is experiencing a surge, with record-breaking numbers of visitors and a thriving downtown scene. Despite these positive indicators, recovery from the pandemic remains sluggish, and the city grapples with a drug crisis.

While foot traffic downtown has increased by 33% from the previous year, it still sits at just over half of pre-pandemic levels. Seattle's post-pandemic recovery ranks among the slowest of major cities in North America, according to a University of Toronto study.

Construction projects are underway, and the downtown residential population is growing, but overdose deaths have surged by 46% from the previous year, indicating a deepening crisis.

Local visits to downtown and retail jobs have also declined significantly. The office vacancy rate, while below the national average, is at its highest in two decades. City officials are working to address these challenges, including updating return-to-work policies to encourage more city workers back downtown. As the city navigates these complex issues, the path to full recovery remains uncertain.

Read more:

Home Depot CEO addresses community commitment in spite of challenges

Home Depot Inc.'s CEO Ted Decker emphasizes the company's commitment to major US cities amidst a surge in retail theft. The retailer has experienced a significant increase in theft over the past five years, with over 142,000 instances of shrink in 2023 alone. Decker attributes this rise to societal problems and highlights the impact on the company's cost structure, which has absorbed billions of dollars due to theft-related losses.

A notable case involved an organized crime ring in Florida led by a former pastor, which stole millions in home-improvement merchandise from Home Depot. Despite challenges, Home Depot remains in cities where other retailers have closed due to rising crime rates. However, plans for new stores have been adjusted to mitigate potential losses and ensure employee safety.

Efforts to combat theft include technological investments such as locking shopping carts, license-plate-recognition cameras, and a theft-reporting portal for employees. Chief Financial Officer Richard McPhail underscores the significance of merchandise losses, making it a top financial priority for the company.

Empathy at the helm: Walmart's Manager Academy cultivates compassionate leadership 


Walmart's Manager Academy is a cornerstone of its mission to nurture empathetic leadership among store managers. Convening around 2,000 managers annually in Bentonville, Arkansas, the program emphasizes the vital role managers play in sales and workplace culture. It encourages managers to go beyond task delegation, fostering relationships with employees and prioritizing their needs. Through interactive sessions and real-life anecdotes, managers learn the importance of empathy and effective communication with both staff and customers.

The Academy reflects Walmart's commitment to address past criticisms of profit-centric practices by instilling a culture of care and accountability. It equips managers with practical strategies for navigating workplace challenges and aligning actions with company values. Walmart's investment in its managers includes increased pay and incentives, recognizing their significance in driving business success. Participant feedback underscores the program's positive impact, with managers valuing its emphasis on corporate culture and relationship-building.

By fostering compassionate leadership and a supportive workplace environment, Walmart aims to enhance performance while creating enduring value for employees and communities.

Read more: The New York Times

Claire's and Walgreens forge partnership: Expanding fashion accessory reach

Claire’s, the fashion accessories retailer, is expanding its presence through a partnership with Walgreens. This collaboration will see Claire’s products, including jewelry, hair accessories, and cosmetics, available in over 4,400 Walgreens stores across the United States by the end of March. The move is part of Claire’s broader strategy to increase its retail footprint, particularly through concession locations.

The partnership with Walgreens adds to Claire’s growing list of retail partners, which now includes over 40 retailers in North America and international locations such as Galeries Lafayette.

Claire’s is committed to curating products based on extensive consumer data to meet the preferences of younger shoppers. The company aims to leverage its retail partnerships to expand its market share and reach younger consumers globally.

Overall, Claire’s is focused on growing its global business, including expansion in Europe and reentry into Mexico, utilizing a combination of owned channels and consumer product partnerships to extend its brand presence.

Read more:

Unlocking your share: Visa and Mastercard settlement information session

Join an information session on the Visa and Mastercard Payment Card Interchange Settlement, led by Alexandra "Xan" Bernay, an official class counsel in the settlement.

Date: March 28, Time: 3 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. CT / noon PT.

Discover how your business could benefit from the $5.5B settlement, the largest of its kind, returning real money to merchants who accepted Visa or Mastercard between Jan. 1, 2004, and Jan. 25, 2019.

Learn about eligibility, claim filing, resources, and engage in a Q&A session with presenters Ryan Marth and Alexandra "Xan" Bernay, co-lead counsel on the case.

Register now at and visit for more details. Submit questions to

Target's checkout revolution: The dawn of express self-service

In the bustling aisles of Target, change is afoot at the self-checkout lanes. With a shared sigh of relief from both shoppers and retailers, Target unveils its exclusive plan to revolutionize the self-service experience.

As March 17 dawned, Target stores nationwide transformed their self-checkout stations into "express lanes," capping purchases at a maximum of 10 items. The aim? To untangle the knotty frustrations of customers. By streamlining the process, Target hopes to inject some much-needed efficiency into the checkout dance, without sacrificing security.

But why the sudden shift? Well, it seems Target isn't alone in its quest for change. Other retail giants like Walmart are also reevaluating their reliance on self-checkout, responding to concerns of theft and usability.

Yet, amidst this evolution, Target maintains a delicate balance. They're not abandoning self-checkout entirely but offering it as a swift option for those in a hurry, while keeping traditional lanes staffed for larger hauls.

Through this narrative of adaptation, Target paints a picture of flexibility and customer-centricity. It's a story of listening to feedback, adjusting to meet evolving needs, and ultimately, striving for a smoother shopping journey. As the checkout landscape evolves, one thing remains clear: Target aims to lead the charge towards a more efficient, secure, and satisfying shopping experience for all.

Ulta Beauty expands sustainability initiatives nationwide

Ulta Beauty, in collaboration with the environmental initiative Pact Collective, has announced the expansion of its Beauty Drop-Off program across all 1,350 U.S. stores, marking a significant milestone in the effort to reduce beauty product packaging waste. Originally piloted in 2023 across 90 stores, this initiative aims to address the alarming trend of beauty packaging ending up in landfills.

The expansion introduces collection bins in all Ulta stores, where customers can responsibly dispose of their empty beauty product containers for free. These items are then processed by Pact Collective through various methods, including upcycling and waste-to-energy conversion.

Ulta's Conscious Beauty program, which emphasizes clean ingredients and sustainable practices, has seen a steady increase in certifications since its inception in 2020. With over 86% of customers expressing interest in purchasing consciously made beauty products and 64% interested in in-store recycling options, Ulta aims to meet this demand by expanding its Conscious Beauty assortment to include over 300 certified brands.

Looking ahead, Ulta pledges that by 2025, half of its product assortment will be recyclable, refillable, or made from recycled or bio-sourced materials. Additionally, Ulta collaborates with compliance platform Novi Connect to verify Conscious Beauty brands and products, ensuring transparency and accountability.

Ulta's commitment to sustainability extends beyond its own operations, as it engages with an advisory council comprising industry leaders to guide and shape its Conscious Beauty program standards. Partnering with Pact Collective aligns Ulta with other leading beauty brands like Sephora and Fenty Beauty, demonstrating a collective effort towards a more sustainable beauty industry.

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