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Leon Kaye headshot

Reality Check for Retailers: Workers Need Support to Get Vaccines

Target announced incentives to help its retail employees get the COVID-19 vaccine - meanwhile, many workers wonder if they can even score time off to do so.
By Leon Kaye

As more white-collar and professional workers become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the process for them will be easy. Sure, there may be a long wait, but thanks to a smartphone, it’s easy to check email, banter on Slack and review documents - no one will know you're away from the home office. Yet for many essential workers, including those who work in retail, sneaking away so they can get the vaccine that will make them safer isn’t quite as easy. Retail employees can’t afford to miss several hours of work – and added to the cost of taking time off to get vaccinated are expenses such as childcare and transportation costs.

Their employees’ day-to-day reality appears to have resonated with Target, which this week announced incentives that would help them score the two doses of vaccine they need. The retailer said it would pay its workers up to four hours of pay and provide up to $15 each way for rides with Lyft so they can follow through with their vaccine appointments.

For the more vulnerable communities across the U.S., tactics such as offering rides can help chip away at the continued inequity rampant across the country’s vaccine rollout.

Target’s launch of this program comes at a time when data have shown that during the nationwide vaccine rollout, people of color so far have received their vaccines at a lower rate than compared to white Americans. The retail sector is one largely staffed by women and well as racial and ethnic minorities – and the risks that come with working at these low-paying jobs are among the reasons why Black Americans have been left especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, even though several of America’s largest retailers have reported a sizable increase in revenues this year compared to 2019, many of those same companies have ceased paying bonuses or any form of hazard pay to their frontline employees.

The vicious cycle continues for many retail workers: They have worked extra shifts during the pandemic, saw their pay flatline or even decrease and now face the prospect of getting vaccinated, but risk having their pay cut to go through a process that will help make their employers’ customers safer. So, credit Target for at least taking a step toward fairness.

Other retailers are dragging their feet, encouraging employees to get those two shots without any discussion of incentives. As one professor explained, the lack of any incentives makes no sense as herd immunity will not only benefit only employees, but their companies’ customers. A few hours of paid time off is a small yet wise investment.

“Why the heck would you not?” said Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, to USA Today. “You want to encourage people to take the vaccine.”

Other retailers, including Aldi, Lidl and Trader Joe’s have announced similar programs that include paid time off, a cash bonus – or both.

Some executives have couched these cash bonuses as a way showing “support” for their employees, though today’s cost of living merits more support than a $200 check if retail workers will be fairly compensated for going through hoops necessary to prevent them from getting sick with COVID-19. The bottom line is that these vaccine programs are protecting their businesses and the communities in which they operate. At this point, supporting vaccination efforts isn’t about corporate responsibility; it’s table stakes.

Image credit: Jpesch95/Wiki Commons

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye