JBS to Give Bonus to U.S. Workers for Getting Virus Vaccine

U.S. employees of Brazilian-owned meatpacker JBS SA and its subsidiary, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., will get a $100 bonus if they opt for the Covid-19 vaccine.

JBS, the biggest meat producer in the world, is hoping the bonus will lead to a high percentage of its 66,000-strong workforce being vaccinated, which will mean fewer outbreaks and disruptions in production.

“We have high expectations that at least three states will start massive vaccinations by early February,” Andre Nogueira, chief executive officer of JBS USA, said in an interview. “What we are doing and we’ve been doing this for several weeks is education, educating team members, communicating to team members. The union is helping us with this communication: why it’s important, why it’s safe, in several languages.”

The company’s internal surveys showed that 60% to 90% of employees were willing to receive the vaccine. With the bonus, however, that number should be closer to 90%, even as some skip it for religious reasons, Nogueira said.

Meatpackers have been trying to move past what’s been a dark period for the industry. Companies struggled last spring to contain Covid-19 outbreaks among workers, forcing many plants to close or reduce output. Thousands of meat-plant workers across the country have been infected, and hundreds have died.

The company put about 8% of its workforce on paid leave, including those who were older and those with preexisting medical conditions.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, which represents more than 3,000 people at JBS’ beef plant in Greeley, Colorado, said the $100 bonus was “not enough.” The union asked the company to reinstate hazard pay that boosted workers’ hourly rates and pointed to a 32% increase in healthcare costs for union members.

“While we should all be doing everything we can to encourage our members to get the Covid-19 vaccine, this new incentive program is not enough and does nothing to right the wrongs experienced by our members who have worked at JBS for the last 10 months, putting their lives at risk to keep the country fed,” Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7, said in a statement Friday.

Overall lower infection rates have allowed JBS to run its plants at near-normal levels. Some tasks such as removing bones from hams remain far below normal.

“I hope that with the improvement we’ve seen in several of the regions that we operate in, that in the next several weeks we can bring this vulnerable population back,” Nogueira said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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