Employers Want You To Get Vaccinated. This One Is Offering A $1,000 Bonus

Aug 17, 2021
Originally published on August 17, 2021 2:30 pm

In mid-July, David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's soaps looked at the vaccination rate among his workers. It had reached 60% — not bad, Bronner says, but not high enough given the rapid spread of the delta variant.

Bronner is CEO of Dr. Bronner's, the natural soap company known for its counterculture roots and the ramblings covering its labels in tiny print.

He was reluctant to impose a vaccine mandate on his 300 employees.

"We don't want to create bad vibes and ill will," he says.

Instead, he came up with an incentive he believes is too good to turn down: a $1,000 bonus for getting vaccinated.

"We figured it was a very compelling number that you would have to really be into your anti-vax beliefs to forgo," he says.

David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner's soaps, is offering a $1,000 bonus to employees for getting vaccinated. He didn't want to impose a mandate, fearing it could create ill will.
Andrea Hsu / NPR

Getting workers vaccinated is an urgent priority

Across the country there is now an urgency to getting workers vaccinated, but how to get there is up for debate. While many companies are offering monetary incentives and paid time off for getting the shots, a growing number of firms are telling their employees to get it done now.

Hospitals and health systems have led the way, with about 1,750 issuing vaccine mandates so far, according to the American Hospital Association. But in recent weeks, companies outside health care have followed suit — United Airlines, Tyson Foods and Walmart among them.

Still, there doesn't appear to be a bandwagon mentality, even within industries. After United announced its mandate, Southwest, American and Delta all said they would continue to "strongly encourage" but not require team members to get vaccinated.

At the state level, there is even greater diversity in approaches. While some states have banned vaccine mandates, Washington state is among those requiring vaccines for all state employees and contractors.

"We are past the point of thinking we can test our way to safety here," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said last week in a press conference, adding that workers will have to get vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs.

Court challenges to vaccine mandates have so far been unsuccessful.

In June, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Texas hospital workers who refused to get vaccinated. More than 150 health care workers resigned or were fired.

Last week, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett declined to interfere with Indiana University's rule requiring faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated by fall.

Unions want full FDA approval for vaccines before mandates are imposed

Unions have also been split on mandates, even within their own ranks.

After Tyson Foods announced its workers must meet fall deadlines for vaccinations, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 24,000 Tyson meatpacking workers, released a statement raising concerns.

"While we support and encourage workers getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, and have actively encouraged our members to do so, it is concerning that Tyson is implementing this mandate before the [Food and Drug Administration] has fully approved the vaccine," the union's president, Marc Perrone, said in a statement.

In California, Richard Louis Brown, president of SEIU Local 1000, representing nearly 100,000 state workers, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the California Department of Human Resources protesting its vaccine requirements, even though his membership is split on the issue.

"To those who say, 'You must get vaccinated,' well, who are you to tell somebody what to do with their body?" he said in a recent Zoom call with members. "To those who say, 'My civil liberties are being violated,' I strongly agree with you."

Brown then noted that he did get vaccinated out of respect for his boss's older parents.

As a member of Dr. Bronner's event marketing team, Rhythm Turner is required to be vaccinated. "If I can protect even one person, then to me, it's worth it," Turner says.
Andrea Hsu / NPR

Dr. Bronner's is hoping to reach 100% vaccination

Even at Dr. Bronner's, where personal choices are held in high regard, a small number of employees are required to be vaccinated, mainly those who interact with the public.

Rhythm Turner, a member of the event marketing team, says they were not enthusiastic about getting the vaccine and waited until they had to — in order to keep their job. A month later came word of the $1,000 bonus.

"That was, for me, an extra affirmation from the universe that I was doing the right thing," Turner says.

Bronner, the company's CEO — it stands for cosmic engagement officer — has also created another way for employees to do good. Inspired by a staff member who wanted to support a domestic violence shelter, Bronner says if employees choose to donate their vaccine bonus, he will increase the amount to $1,100.

As hopeful as he is, Bronner knows there may still be a few holdouts. He can rattle off the names of a few people he thinks won't ever get vaccinated.

Still, his goal is to get to 100%, and with the $1,000 bonuses going out next month, he thinks he has just as good a chance as anyone of getting there.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Employers across America are telling their workers, get vaccinated now. Companies including Tyson Foods, United Airlines and Walmart have imposed vaccine requirements on employees. CNN fired several who lied about their status and went to work unvaccinated. NPR's Andrea Hsu reports on the pressure that employers are feeling amid the delta surge and how that is driving some to get creative.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Walk onto the floor of the Dr. Bronner's soap factory, and you're greeted by a pleasant and pungent aroma.

Smells like peppermint in here.

Peppermint bar soap is getting boxed up and ready to be shipped out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY RUNNING)

HSU: Nearby, Alice Gomez and Maria Ramos are hand-filling travel-size bottles of cherry blossom liquid soap. The workers here are wearing masks. They undergo weekly COVID testing, and now the bosses want everyone to be vaccinated. Gomez already is. She got her first shot back in February.

ALICE GOMEZ: February and March, it was taken.

HSU: Oh, wow.

GOMEZ: Yeah - so early.

HSU: But her teammate, Maria Ramos...

GOMEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA RAMOS: (Speaking Spanish).

HSU: Not yet, she says. Dr. Bronner's is famous for its counterculture roots. It's now a major soap manufacturer with some 300 employees, about 200 of them on-site at its headquarters in Vista, Calif. The company's public-facing employees - the event marketing team, for example - are required to be vaccinated, but for the rest, it's voluntary. David Bronner is the company's CEO. Because it's Dr. Bronner's, that stands for Cosmic Engagement Officer.

DAVID BRONNER: I totally respect all the companies and institutions that are mandating. I think that's really great. It's, you know, not our choice, but we feel like we're going to get to virtually the same place with the path we're taking.

HSU: And the path they're taking is giving out $1,000 bonuses.

BRONNER: We figured it was a very compelling number, that you would have to really be in your anti-vax beliefs to forgo it.

HSU: So why not a mandate? Well, Bronner says he didn't want to create bad vibes and ill will by forcing the vaccine on anyone. And he could afford this massive incentive. Sales of their soap and hand sanitizer exploded last year. Across the country, there is now an urgency to getting workers vaccinated. But how to get there is up for debate even among airlines. After United announced its vaccine mandate, Southwest, American and Delta have said, we're not doing that. And, of course, while some states have banned vaccine mandates, others are going all in. Take Washington state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAY INSLEE: We have essentially what is a new virus at our throats.

HSU: That was Washington Governor Jay Inslee last week, announcing all state workers and contractors must be vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

INSLEE: We are past the point of thinking we can test our way to safety here.

HSU: Vaccine mandates have been challenged in court, but so far they've stood strong. Unions have been split on mandates even within their membership. Here's Richard Louis Brown on a Zoom call with members. He's president of SEIU Local 1000, representing 100,000 state workers in California.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD LOUIS BROWN: In our union, we have two groups - those for the vaccination and those against the vaccination. Well, guess what? I love you both (imitating kiss).

HSU: Brown himself got vaccinated, but last month he sent a cease-and-desist letter to California's HR department over its vaccine requirements. He says they're a violation of civil liberties.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BROWN: For those who say you must get vaccinated, well, who are you to tell somebody what to do with their body? I thought people had the right to choose what went inside their body. At least that's what you claim.

HSU: Back at Dr. Bronner's, I ask Maria Ramos if she's worried about the shots.

RAMOS: Yeah, a little bit. I'll think about it.

HSU: She'll think about it. The thousand-dollar bonuses have not gone out yet. That'll start next month.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S "SOCIAL INSECURITY (THE BEAUTY IN ALL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.