National and local employers dangle incentives to get more workers vaccinated

Laura Layden
Naples Daily News
Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee. Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming recently launched the "Rock Your Shot" incentive program

In Southwest Florida, some companies are going the extra mile to encourage their employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations. 

One example? Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming recently launched the "Rock Your Shot" incentive program. 

Through the program, employees who show they're fully vaccinated can claim a $50 gift card.

On top of that, they're entered into a drawing for a chance to win such lucrative prizes as a 2021 Jeep Cherokee and cash awards of $10,000 and $5,000.

Anything but spooky, the drawing is set for Oct. 31, Halloween. 

Casino workers prepare machines for guests, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, at Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee. Employees who show they're fully vaccinated can claim a $50 gift card.

Based in Hollywood on Florida's east coast, Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming together employ about 21,000 full- and part-time workers throughout the country. That includes nearly 1,000 locally, at its casino and hotel in Immokalee.  

In case you missed it:Seminole Casino Hotel to reopen Monday after 5 months closure sparked by coronavirus pandemic

More:Collier County sets tourism record in May as people itch for return to travel

As part of aggressive efforts to get employees vaccinated, the companies have also provided shots at their worksites.

Additionally, the businesses established flexible scheduling to make it easier for employees to get their shots off-site — if that's more convenient or preferred.

“We are committed to a safe working environment for all of our team members,” said Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming, in a statement. “With more team members vaccinated, there is less chance for the virus to spread to other team members and guests.”

The Seminole Casino Hotel, a 24-7 operation that rarely closes, shuttered for five months after the coronavirus pandemic hit, until it could reboot and reopen with new — and much more stringent — safety measures in place, including mask and distance requirements. 

Casino lights reflect off the plexiglass barriers located at the blackjack tables at Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020.

While employees who aren't vaccinated are no longer required to wear masks, they're still strongly encouraged to do so, said Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in an email.

"Otherwise, use of masks is at the discretion of team members," he said. 

Related:Collier County sets tourism record in May as people itch for return to travel

Several big-box retailers have offered enticements of their own to encourage and help their employees get vaccinated, here and across the nation. That includes:

  • Walmart, offering a one-time $75 bonus to U.S. field associates 
  • Target, providing up to four hours of extra pay, plus free Lyft rides to and from appointments

In February, Dollar General became one of the first major retailers to dangle incentives, when it promised workers four hours of pay after getting vaccinated.

Several grocery stores chains joined the bandwagon. Here are a few examples: 

  • Publix, offering workers a store gift card of $125 with proof of vaccination
  • Trader Joe's and Aldi, providing employees with up to four hours of pay, or two hours per dose
  • Winn-Dixie, handing out coupons for up to $15 off store purchases
Shoppers make grocery runs at Publix in Bonita Springs on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Meanwhile, online grocery delivery company Instacart has paid its workers $25 to offset the time it's taken them to get vaccinated. 

Several of Southwest Florida's largest locally-based employers have taken steps to prod their workers into getting inoculated, including Lee County government, which provided on-site vaccination clinics early on.

"Although Lee County offered vaccination options at worksites, we know anecdotally that many of our employees pursued private-sector opportunities when the vaccine became readily available," said Betsy Clayton, the county's communications director.

When the shots first became available for adults 65 and older, the Lee County School District partnered with the local health department to set a time for its eligible and willing employees to get vaccinated. 

"When the shots opened up to 50-plus, we did the same thing," said Robert Spicker, a district spokesman.

Doses of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine sit ready for distribution during a vaccine clinic for farmworkers at the Florida Department of Health in Collier County site on Lake Trafford Road in Immokalee on Saturday, April 10, 2021.

U.S. Sugar, headquartered in Clewiston, has strongly encouraged and incentivized its employees to get vaccinated for their own health and safety, said Judy Sanchez, the company's senior director for corporate communications and public affairs.

Earlier this month, the company announced the winners of its “Kickin’ COVID-19 Together” campaign that helped it reach a nearly 60% vaccination rate among its employees.

Through the campaign, everyone who showed proof of vaccination got entered into a company-wide raffle for prizes, including the grand prize of a 2021 Chevrolet Silverado.  Among the other prizes were five ThinkPad laptops, a Rtic 65 QT Cooler and a Traeger Timberline Grill.

Judy Clayton Sanchez
Belle Glade
U.S. Sugar

Additionally, every vaccinated employee received $100.

“It is a blessing to work for a company that genuinely cares about the health of its people,” said Eneyda Rios, winner of the 2021 Chevy Silverado, in a statement. “I can’t believe I won a new pickup truck, just for taking advantage of an opportunity to participate in a program that was designed to truly benefit my family and all those around me.”

While many businesses have already dropped requirements for employees to wear masks, vaccinated or not, U.S. Sugar hasn't done so just yet. Out of caution, the company continues to follow the earlier and more stringent guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control, requiring masks and social distancing where possible.

"We are reviewing policies that will make masks optional for fully vaccinated workers in the near future. Since agriculture was deemed “critical infrastructure” in March of 2020, our employees have been continuously working and receiving paychecks and full benefits throughout the pandemic," Sanchez said. "The people of U.S. Sugar have also shared the abundance of our food crops with our neighbors in the Glades communities and in our coastal regions."