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Amtrak will pay employees to get coronavirus vaccine

The railroad says it wants all of its 16,500 workers vaccinated against the coronavirus and is offering incentives.

An Amtrak Northeast Regional train at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station last month.
An Amtrak Northeast Regional train at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station last month.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, is spending $3 million on cash bonuses for employees who get a coronavirus vaccine, a nudge that executives hope will hasten protection for its workforce and riders.

Workers who provide proof of vaccination will earn a bonus of two hours of pay, the company said. It also will allow employees to get the shots during work and will give paid time off up to 48 hours for those who are dealing with side effects.

“We believe the vaccine offers the best way to keep our employees safe and contribute to the wellness of local communities,” the company said in a statement announcing the policy earlier this week.

Amtrak is joining a growing number of companies offering incentives such as paid time off to workers who get vaccinated. They include grocery chains such as Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and Lidl, as well as shopping service Instacart and bargain retailer Dollar General. This week, McDonald’s also announced it would give four hours’ paid time off to employees of corporate-owned U.S. stores.

The moves come as the railroad is trying to rebound from the worst financial crisis since its 1970 creation. As at many local and regional transit agencies, Amtrak revenue has fallen off a cliff because of declines in ticket sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ridership was down about 75% year over year as of December.

Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station was the third busiest Amtrak destination in the country in 2019, behind New York and Washington.

As of Monday, about 100 of the Amtrak’s 16,500 employees had received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the company said. The number could increase sharply as jurisdictions include essential transportation workers in the list of eligible people; at this point, many do not.

Amtrak has paid out more than $15 million in “pay protection” for employees not able to work due to COVID-19 symptoms, quarantine, or a positive test, a spokesperson said.

The vaccine benefits are not limited to those on the front lines, working with the public in stations, or on trains. All employees are eligible for the bonuses and time off, a spokesperson said. Amtrak says its goal is to have 100% of its workforce vaccinated against the virus.