Charlotte grocers prepare to vaccinate their front line

Charlotte grocers prepare to vaccinate their front line
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Editor’s note: This story was first published on Jan. 26 and last updated on Feb. 22 at 1 p.m. to include incentives from Harris Teeter and Publix.

It’s almost time for grocery employees — those invaluable workers who’ve restocked shelves and implemented new protocols throughout the pandemic — to get vaccinated.

North Carolina is currently vaccinating Group 2, or adults 65 and older. Frontline essential workers in Group 3 are those who are “essential to the functioning of society” and more likely to be exposed to the virus, the CDC says.

  • Governor Cooper recently announced Group 3 will begin Feb. 24, starting with educators. Vaccination for frontline essential workers like grocery clerks begins March 10.
  • The Charlotte metro area has about 28,600 workers in the food and beverage store industry. That include groceries, specialty food stores and liquor stores, according to data from the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

In a recent briefing, Cooper said that “things will get a little more complicated when we go into essential workers” and how to define them.

  • NC DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said recently that the state is “still working through details” about plans for vaccinating front-line workers, and will provide guidance as soon as it can.
  • The North Carolina Retail Merchants Association has been advocating the state for vaccine prioritization for front-line retail workers since last August, president Andy Ellen said. The group is pushing for a uniform vaccine statewide plan for those workers.

Why it matters: Without uniform guidance from government on how to vaccinate the thousands of grocery employees throughout the state, private employers are establishing their own plans.

  • Those plans range from paying workers $200 to get a vaccine to educating them on vaccine safety.

Clermont Ripley, director of our Workers’ Rights Project at N.C. Justice Center, says it’s the job of governments and health experts to determine how to handle vaccinating frontline workers like grocery clerks.

  • “The role for employers to play is to assist them — to make sure they are providing access including paid time to do it, and make sure they are not putting up barriers, like threatening to fire people who miss work to get vaccinated,” Ripley said.

Zoom out: Many grocery employees are usually paid hourly, so an uneven vaccine rollout that puts them at risk of losing pay could widen existing inequality in Charlotte.

Here’s a look at what some companies are doing:

Aldi said last week it will provide employees with two hours pay for each dose of the coronavirus vaccine they receive (so four hours total) as well as scheduling flexibility for salaried employees.

  • Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles thanked Aldi for caring for its employees. “They put themselves at risk everyday to deliver quality customer service to us and we certainly appreciate them,” Lyles said in a tweet.

Lidl is paying its employees $200 to get a coronavirus vaccine to offset costs such as transportation and childcare.

  • Lidl also installed hospital-grade HVAC systems in its stores.
  • “Lidl has made it a priority to adapt our policies to work better for our people during this pandemic,” Johannes Fieber, CEO of Lidl US, said in a statement.

Harris Teeter and Publix say they will vaccinate their Charlotte-area employees once their pharmacies get the supply to do so — although they’re not requiring their employees to get the vaccine. The two grocers are also providing incentives for their employees to get vaccinated.

  • Harris Teeter is offering a payment of $100 to store associates who receive the COVID-19 vaccine, spokesperson Danna Robinson confirmed. The grocer started offering coronavirus vaccines at its pharmacies in South Carolina a few weeks ago and will start in North Carolina soon.
  • Publix said last week it will offer its employees a $125 Publix gift card after they complete the full COVID-19 vaccination. They must submit an internal form and proof of vaccination. Their vaccination doesn’t have to take place at a Publix pharmacy in order to get the gift card.

“We care about our associates and customers and believe getting vaccinated can help us take one step closer to getting back to normal,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in a statement.

Food Lion will share information from public health officials with its employees about vaccination.

“We strongly encourage our associates to take steps necessary to follow CDC and local guidelines and receive the vaccine if they choose to do so,” spokesperson Matt Harakal said.

Walmart doesn’t plan to incentivize its employees to get the vaccine but it plans to make it “accessible” to its roughly 4,000 employees in the Charlotte region. The company will offer vaccines at its pharmacies to associates as soon as possible, a spokesperson said.

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