The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made working conditions especially difficult, which has led the City of Salem, Massachusetts, to offer a $500 incentive to employees working at businesses where a COVID vaccine is required for both workers and patrons.
Mayor Kim Driscoll told NBC10 Boston that the Salem Employee Incentive Program is intended to support hiring and retaining frontline workers at those businesses that are required to comply with the city's proof of COVID vaccination requirement that went into effect last Saturday.
“We’ve seen it difficult for some of our small business operators to have enough staff when somebody comes down with COVID. Others are in close contact,” Driscoll explained. "We really wanted to try and incentivize both people who are interested in working in these frontline service jobs and then two, provide a bit of a bonus or reward for people who have been working and are staying in those jobs."
The incentive only applies to businesses where the vaccine mandate for entry is in place, including restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, museums and other entertainment venues.
Manager John Taylor, of Salem's Turner's Seafood, says finding frontline workers and retaining them has been difficult the past two years. He has seen its impact on business firsthand.
“People are catching coronavirus more this year than last year,” Taylor said. "Some people are catching it at home. Some people could be catching it here but we’re not sure.”
Francis Sweeney does everything from hosting to serving at Turners and says he was much relieved to hear about the city's new program because it has been very, very slow at the restaurant these past few weeks.
With wages harder to come by in the slow season, $500 could be the extra help some need to make ends meet.
“People have had their hours cut so you’re not getting as many shifts as usual so that will really help,” Sweeney added.
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“We’re hopeful that this will be an opportunity to really support our small businesses with one of their key needs and that's talent, bringing in staff,” Driscoll added.
Employees are eligible to receive the $500 bonus if they are current employees or new hires, as long as they remain employed at the business for at least six consecutive weeks and work at least 30 hours in total over the course of that time.
Business owners are not eligible for the financial incentive; the program is to support the public-facing, hourly employees.
Salem's program will be funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. The mayor estimates they'll issue at least $50,000 in payments.
Applications are due by noon on Monday, Feb. 7. Click here for more information.