Since Bolthouse Farms CEO Jeff Dunn announced his plans to give all of his 1,800 full-time hourly employees at the company's California plant a $500 bonus for getting the Covid-19 vaccine, he's been getting a lot of inquiries.
"Some of our competitors, some other folks in the [San Joaquin Valley] have called just to find out about it, because I think everyone's grappling with how do you motivate? Nobody wants to mandate" or spend extra money, Dunn, CEO of the plant-based beverage company tells CNBC Make It.
But Dunn says in the end, "incenting people to get vaccinated was clearly the right thing to do and sent the right message."
Bolthouse has vaccinated more than a 1,000 of its 1,800 employees since holding its first vaccination clinic on Feb. 26 for employees 65 and older. Since March 12 it has had weekly clinics.
"We're getting it done, which makes us all feel really good," Dunn says.
Bolthouse's target was to vaccinate 65% of its employees and Dunn believes they will surpass that goal soon.
Another reason for the incentive is that the staff of Bolthouse's Bakersfield plant is about 80% Hispanic, Dunn says.
According to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanics and Latinos are nearly twice as likely to get Covid and three times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
But despite those numbers, Latinos are among the most skeptical and hesitant about getting the vaccine, according to data from Brookings Institution, citing concerns over long-term health effects and side effects. Latinos have also historically experienced biased treatment by the medical community, which has led to distrust, including of vaccines.
Dunn says a lot of that "natural reticence" comes down to education, which is why Bolthouse Farms is also offering small group education meetings with nurses for employees with questions and concerns about the Covid vaccine.
They can ask questions like, "What is a vaccine? Is it risky? What are the safety issues?" Dunn says.
Employees can refuse to get the Covid vaccine, Dunn says.
"We actually believe that mandating and forcing it down their throat would have been a mistake because you just get resistance," Dunn says.
Dunn says prior to offering the $500 Covid vaccine bonus, which will be added to worker's paychecks after they submit a photo of their vaccination card to the company, he was giving a $100 essential pay bonus per week for hourly production employees to help support them during the pandemic since last March.
"We did essential pay right up until three weeks ago when we started vaccinating," Dunn says.
The $500 vaccine bonus was also a way to help workers coming off of the $100 weekly essential pay bonus. "Five hundred dollars is a lot of money to these folks. It's meaningful," he says.
Dunn told The Wall Street Journal that the company has already spent tens of millions of dollars on safety protocols like testing, protective gear and paid time off to keep their employees safe and their facilities operating. While the company said they have "had an extremely low Covid-19 positive incident rate" throughout the pandemic, one employee did die from coronavirus.
"While it is one too many," a Bolthouse spokesperson tells Make It, "based on exposure timeline, this employee did not contract the virus at work, nor was he in the facility for additional contamination."
Bolthouse, like other food and agriculture businesses, secured Covid vaccine doses through public-health officials because it's considered a priority group in California.
Bolthouse also has facilities in Arizona, Washington and Illinois, and the company is currently working on securing Covid vaccines for those workers and plans to give bonuses to all of its frontline employees.