Bribing People Into Saving Themselves

Jan. 26, 2021

Companies are paying their employees to get vaccinated against COVID. That's just depressing.

It seems there’s a new wrinkle in the battle against the pandemic. Some businesses, including JBS USA and Pilgrim’s Pride, plan to bribe their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Those two companies (the latter majority-owned by the former) issued a joint statement saying they will pay a $100 bonus to any of its employees who voluntarily get vaccinated. They join others, including Instacart, which is offering $25, and Lidl, the discount supermarket chain, offering $200. Others are offering non-monetary incentives, like Chobani, which is telling workers it can take six hours off to get vaccinated (three for each dose of the vaccine).

My first reaction: What?

Also: Huh?

What kind of world do we live in where working people have to be bribed to take medication that could save their lives?

That question should be rhetorical, but it isn’t. The answer is: The modern world, where misinformation is never more than a mouse click away.

A distressingly large proportion of Americans believe all kinds of crazy nonsense about the COVID-19 vaccines that are our only real hope of containing the pandemic. I won’t go into those beliefs here, except to note that a quarter of New York State residents said in a survey that they don’t plan to get vaccinated. A disproportionate number of these refusers are Black and Latino. Those two groups are, of course, heavily represented in food processing – especially the meat and poultry processing plants that have seen so many COVID outbreaks.

Companies, even those not planning to bribe their employees to get the vaccine, are finding themselves in the position of having to educate them about it. They’re launching email and social media campaigns, bringing in outside experts for lectures, even keeping an ear out for negative references to the vaccines among staff. Anheuser-Busch is even eschewing Super Bowl advertising – for the first time in the game’s history – to devote money to vaccination awareness efforts.

Employers know this is the right thing to do – by which I mean, the right thing for them. Of course there are humanitarian impulses at work here, but there’s also a powerful self-interest. No business can stand to have employees get sick, or worse, en masse. Things get worse when workers die and their families hire lawyers, especially since the Republicans’ efforts to add legal immunity for businesses to the pandemic stimulus bill came to naught. It’s telling that Dollar General, a retail chain that has never been known to coddle its employees, is on the bribe train, offering four hours of pay as an incentive to get the vaccine.

As I see it, there are two things to hope for in this situation:

1) I hope it works, because obviously, the more vaccinations, the better. One study showed that, when it comes to information sources, more people trust their employers than politicians or the media.

2) I hope that the interest of food industry employers in their workers will go beyond just getting them to take the vaccine. Otherwise, as I’ve said before, it’s hardly a better relationship than the ones ranchers have with the animals they preemptively dose with antibiotics.