Dollar General will pay workers to get virus vaccine

  • The newly-opened Dollar General in Henniker. Caitlin Andrews

  • Audrey Quinlan waits on customers at the newly opened Dollar General at South Hadley Plaza, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018.

The Washington Post
Published: 1/13/2021 2:03:40 PM

Dollar General workers who get the coronavirus vaccine be rewarded with four hours of pay, the company announced Wednesday, making it one of the first major retailers to incentivize inoculations for its workforce.

While such major brands as Walmart and CVS have key roles in the distribution of vaccines, most are encouraging employees to get vaccinated but not mandating it. But as doses become available to front-line workers outside of heath and long-term care, Dollar General wants to remove barriers – including transit and child care costs – that might prevent its 157,000 employees from receiving the vaccine, the discount retailer said in a news release. On average, Dollar General employees make a base rate of $9.80 an hour, according to PayScale.

“We do not have an on-site pharmacy and currently do not have systems in place for employees to receive a vaccine at their work site,” the company said. “We do not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work.”

Companies across the country are scrambling to lobby state and federal governments to secure vaccine priority for their workforces. In December, the National Retail Federation sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, arguing that the nation’s 32 million retail workers – who are front-line, essential workers – should be given early access.

“The coronavirus, and the ensuing shutdown of businesses, has wrought havoc upon retailers of every size, in every community,” the retail trade group wrote in the letter. “The process of approving vaccines for use to combat COVID-19, and appropriate ordering of its distribution, is a critical first step in getting our economy and community life back on track.”

Neil Saunders, managing director of Global Data Retail in New York, said that the nature of retail work inevitably leaves employees vulnerable to the virus, even if they follow the recommended public health protocols.

“Even with preventative measures such as masks, retail workers are at risk of exposure because they regularly come into contact with a large number of people,” Saunders said in an email to The Post. “From a retailer’s perspective, they want staff to be safe but they also don’t want to be responsible for an contagion among colleagues or customers. As such retailers will be keen for their staff to get vaccinated.”

Though the pandemic set off a wave of bankruptcies and shuttered stores, most of the biggest retail brands have raked in massive profits. A November report from watchdog Public Citizen found that the nation’s top 15 retailers – including Amazon, Walmart, Dollar General – collectively amassed another $14.6 billion in profits in fiscal 2020 compared with 2019, with most allowing hazard pay to expire and throwing money into stock buybacks.

In the same period, Dollar General said it made $38 million in pandemic-related investments, including bonuses and health and safety measures. It gave out $173 million in employee appreciation bonuses last year, and began offering paid sick leave during the pandemic.

The Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based company operated nearly 17,000 stores in 46 states as of Oct. 30, according to its website, with 70% of those locations in rural areas. Chief executive Todd Vasos told the Wall Street Journal that the company has a role to play in controlling the spread of the virus in these regions.

“We believe as the vaccine continues to gain momentum that we’ve got to get it to rural America,” Vasos told the Journal.

Dollar General employees will not have to provide proof of vaccination, instead checking a box to verify that they received a dose. Although the company is encouraging employees to get the vaccine, it will not be required.

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