- JBS USA and Pilgrim’s said they would give a $100 incentive bonus to any of their 66,000 U.S. employees who voluntarily choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, the companies said in a statement. The meat and poultry processors said the initiative is designed to encourage maximum participation in the government's vaccination program.
- JBS said company surveys show about 60% to 90% of workers at individual facilities are willing to get vaccinated. "We recognize that some team members in our diverse workforce may have concerns or be less inclined to get vaccinated. The incentive bonus is designed to encourage voluntary vaccination and provide an additional measure of support to our team members," Chris Gaddis, head of human resources at JBS USA, said in a statement.
- The announcement came as President Biden issued an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue tougher guidance for employers on workplace safety, reconsider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 are needed and identify any changes that could be made to better protect workers and ensure equity in enforcement.
As the vaccine rollout inches along, a growing number of companies are preparing for when their employees will be eligible to receive it — with many offering their workers incentives or paid time off to get it.
Last week, Chobani said it would cover up to six hours of time for its employees to get vaccinated — three hours for each of the two COVID-19 vaccine doses. Reuters reported Tyson Foods will offer vaccines on site at its facilities while employees are on the job. A handful of food retailers, including Instacart and Lidl, also are giving their workers financial incentives to get vaccinated.
But for the meat and poultry processors, which were hit hard during the early months of the pandemic with widespread coronavirus outbreaks forcing several U.S. plants to temporarily close for cleaning, a bonus could help incentivize their workforce and further restore the industry's credibility.
Unions, activists, workers and family members criticized the meat industry for waiting too long to put additional safety measures in place. As of mid-November, nearly 80 workers across the largest meat companies died because of COVID-19.
The government also levied fines to some companies. A JBS facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was cited in October with a $13,494 proposed fine for violations including employees working in too close proximity. In September, OSHA cited a JBS facility in Greeley, Colorado, for "failing to protect employees" from the coronavirus because it didn't provide a hazard-free workplace, and proposed a fine of $15,615. A Smithfield Foods' plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, also was cited in September for not providing a workplace without hazards. Its proposed fine was $13,494.
Meat processors hope the safety measures they have put in place, including temperature checks, physical dividers and social distancing when possible, coupled with a vaccine, could put them on safer ground. JBS USA and Pilgrim’s estimated that they have spent more than $200 million in health and safety measures to protect their workforce and more than $160 million in increased wages and bonuses.
JBS USA and chicken company Pilgrim’s, which is majority owned by Brazilian meatpacker JBS SA, have launched internal education campaigns to their workforce to emphasize the safety, efficacy and importance of receiving the vaccine.
JBS no doubt wants to protect its employees as well as its business; if as many as four out of 10 workers are hesitant to get vaccinated, the company needs to act now to ensure workers who are unwilling change their minds by the time they are eligible. A Food Dive analysis found most states plan to allow workers to get vaccinated in Phase 1B along with other critical or essential workers.