Oaklawn Offers Raises to Fully Vaccinated Workers

Oaklawn Offers Raises to Fully Vaccinated Workers
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort President Louis Cella (Oaklawn)

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort of Hot Springs said Thursday that it will give raises to employees who are fully vaccinated.

In a news release, the casino and thoroughbred racetrack said that, beginning Oct. 10, wages for "all current and future fully vaccinated non-tipped, hourly team members will be raised to a minimum of $16 per hour."

Fully vaccinated, tipped hourly employees will see their pay increased to a minimum of $8.50 per hour, and vaccinated salaried employees will get a 3% pay raise.

The company said its new starting annual salary for fully vaccinated salaried employees will be $40,000 per year. It said current employees are eligible for the vaccine incentive through Dec. 31.

"We live in challenging times right now," Oaklawn President Louis Cella said. "We are struggling to fill open positions and COVID is still hanging on. With the vaccine incentive, we are looking to change the financial health of our current and future team members."

According to Jennifer Hoyt, Oaklawn's director of racing, the company is looking to fill about 150 positions.

Oaklawn said new and seasonal employees after Jan. 1 will be eligible for the incentive by providing a valid vaccination card.

"It's pretty groundbreaking to make that big of a wage increase for our team members who are vaccinated, but we believe that, being one of the largest employers in Garland County, with nearly 1,000 employees, it is a very important step in the right direction," Joan Botts, Oaklawn's vice president of marketing, told Arkansas Business in an interview. "It's creating an incentive to ultimately provide the safest environment possible for our team members and our guests."

Botts said she didn’t have exact figures on how many Oaklawn workers have received the vaccine.

"It's a moving target, and we continue to provide shots," she said. "We're working locally with CHI, which comes on site to provide shots for our team members and their families. I don't have an exact number, but we know that these financial incentives should get us closer to 100%."

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration on Monday gave full approval to the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer, which has prompted some major employers to require that workers to get vaccinated. Those include Walt Disney World, Chevron Corp. and CVS Health. Airlines including Delta and United already required new hires to be vaccinated.

In the statement, Cella said Oaklawn believes in protecting the health of its workers, their families and the community. 

"The vaccine incentive, coming on the heels of the FDA approving the Pfizer vaccine, should move those unvaccinated to become vaccinated," he said. 

In addition to the vaccine incentive, Oaklawn said it will continue cash incentive drawings for vaccinated workers, which began Aug. 1. Oaklawn said it’s giving away $45,000 to employees who have provided documentation showing they have been fully vaccinated.