Publix offers 225,000 workers $125 gift cards to get vaccinated

Author: Kate Gibson, CBS News
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News

Publix on Friday said it would give a $125 Publix gift card to each of its more than 225,000 employees who get vaccinated against COVID-19. The supermarket chain is the latest major employer to offer an enticement to its workers to immunize themselves against a virus that’s killed more than 495,000 Americans.

The gift cards are being offered to current employees who submit an internal form and proof of vaccination, the Lakeland, Florida-based company said. Publix said it’s encouraging but not requiring workers to get vaccinated.

“We care about our associates and customers and believe getting vaccinated can help us take one step closer to getting back to normal,” Publix CEO Todd Jones stated in a news release. “We’re encouraging our associates to get vaccinated when they become eligible and doses are available.”

Publix operates 1,266 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, along with nine distribution centers and 11 manufacturing facilities.

No access for many

Despite the incentives, getting vaccinated may be easier said than done for the nation’s 3 million grocery workers as they are not at the front of the line when it comes to prioritizing who gets vaccinated. Only 13 states — California, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia — have started inoculating supermarket employees, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 800,000 U.S. grocery workers.

“Essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants are not being prioritized for vaccine access in many states and continue to face delays that further endanger their health,” Marc Perrone, the union’s international president said in a statement. “Simply put, the failures in early vaccine distribution under the past administration have left millions of Americans and essential workers defenseless.”

There have been 137 grocery worker deaths due to COVID-19, according to the UFCW, and over 30,100 grocery workers have been infected or exposed.

Carrots instead of sticks

The move by Publix comes two days after Tyson Foods — the nation’s largest poultry producer — offered its 12,000 workers up to four hours of regular pay if they are vaccinated outside their regular shift or through an external source. Others offering up to four hours of extra pay for getting the shots include Aldi, Darden Restaurants, Dollar General, McDonald’s and Target.

Target, with 350,000 workers, also said it would cover Lyft rides of up to $15 each way to get to and from vaccination appointments.

Yogurt maker Chobani is paying workers for up to six hours to get inoculated, while Amtrak is spending $3 million to give employees the equivalent of two hours of extra pay once they show they’ve been vaccinated.

Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, and meat-processing company JBS are both offering workers $100 to get vaccinated. Lidl, which runs 125 grocery stores in nine states, is offering $200 to employees who get the vaccine; Petco is offering its 26,000 workers $75 and grocery delivery service Instacart is offering $25.

The idea of giving potentially reluctant employees a financial incentive to get vaccinated also extends to the medical industry. In Texas, Houston Methodist plans to give its 26,000 workers an extra $500 next month so long as they’re vaccinated.

Employers generally can require workers get vaccinated, as they must ensure a safe workplace in which “an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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