The Broward County government’s new COVID-19 incentive program has received a stamp of approval from the majority of Commissioners, but county employees, especially those of Caribbean descent, are still divided on the issue.
As a way to encourage its employees to get vaccinated, the county is using more than $3 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus money to give every vaccinated employee $500. Those who aren’t vaccinated will have to pay a surcharge of $20 every two weeks for health insurance. They’ll also have to be tested weekly.
The program begins on October 1. The memo sent out to county employees from County Administrator Bertha Henry stated that although county leaders struggled with the decision, they felt “obligated to act now to secure a greater level of safety for the workforce of nearly 7000”.
The program also dominated the discussion at the most recent Commissioners’ meeting, where several local leaders including Jamaican-born Commissioner Dale Holness showed their support for the initiative.
“I know everyone has a responsibility to themselves, their families and their community. But the people out there that haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, they just haven’t made it convenient for themselves to go out and do it. This incentive will help,” he said.
There are some Broward employees, like Jane Campbell*, a Human Resources Officer at Broward County Government, who agree with Holness that the program will convince more workers to go out and get the shot.
“Hopefully, it convinces more of us to go out and take the vaccine. If I was given the choice between getting money or losing money for something as simple as taking the vaccine, well that seems like a no-brainer to me. I think others will eventually come around,” she said.
For other county employees, like Jamaican-American Jasmine Faye* who works in the transit department, the program seems more like enforcement than encouragement.
“I’m surprised no employee has protested it yet. People who are vaccinated are happy about the $500, but for those who aren’t, they’ll lose $20 every two weeks. How dare they? People are still recovering from this pandemic,” she said,
Faye, who is fully vaccinated, said most of the employees who work in her department are vaccinated. She said, however, that the general consensus among coworkers is that the county is doing a disservice to its employees by docking the pay of those who haven’t taken the shot.
A similar point was raised by Broward County Vice Mayor Michael Udine, who said that the policy may be pushing the county’s Caribbean employees to make a decision that they aren’t comfortable with.
“This program is gonna affect lower-level employees who are gonna be penalized this most over this. This is a cultural thing for a lot of our Caribbean employees – a lot of people not from this country, don’t wanna take the vaccine. I don’t agree with them but this is culturally-embedded in how they move forward. I don’t wanna pay someone $500 to do something that they should be doing,” Udine said.
Broward County currently has no data on how many employees have been vaccinated – but Mayor Steve Geller suspects it’s not many. Geller insists that this program is the best option for encouraging vaccinations, and calls it a carrot and twig approach, saying the punishment for not being vaccinated is too small to be considered a stick.
*names were changed to ensure the privacy of the employees.