After the pandemic forced machines at our electronics recycling company to temporarily shut down, we now see a path back to full production through the form of a syringe.
And we’re confident that point could come sometime this year.
Navigating a corporate terrain that includes the availability of a controversial COVID-19 vaccine will be difficult. In early April, we began offering a program to provide paid time off to employees opting to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. We’re offering full-time employees four hours of paid time off for each vaccine shot needed. Our program’s goal is to promote individual vaccination and serve as an example for other businesses to offer the same benefit.
It is a benefit we were considering for our 100 employees well before New York State law made it a requirement.
Darien Payne, one of our warehouse employees, told me that he has asthma and considered it a no-brainer to get the vaccine. “My first thought when I heard [about the PTO policy] is that they really care about the wellbeing and health of their staff and employees,” he told me.
Sunnking’s CEO, Duane Beckett, believes the policy builds a little morale. “It shows that you care about your employees, it helps protect all your own workers and any customers, so we think there are no negatives to this,” he said.
Moving past a problematic year
Last year, New York state listed recycling as an “essential” business, allowing companies like ours to remain open during mandated business closures. However, it’s been a rocky year since, for both employees and the company.
In some cases, we’ve had employees displaying minor symptoms, and they’re out of work for at least a week waiting on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. In 2020, out of an abundance of caution for our residential customers, we had to postpone some local e-Recycling Events after staff members tested positive for the virus. The new PTO program should ensure that the risk of COVID-19 exposure is limited.
There have been times when the constant need to adapt to society’s COVID policy changes has also strained company production and budget. From zero weight demanufactured during parts of 2020, Sunnking teams have only been able to boost back to a fraction of normalcy since. Before the pandemic, several recycling lines included three to four employees; it has since been downgraded to only two, as team members space out for social distancing. This change, in turn, has pushed Sunnking’s bottom line, with the cost to demanufacture devices nearly doubling at its peak.
Couple the productivity drop with both the rising direct and indirect costs of COVID (including line items like the vaccine PTO, state minimum wage raises, and health and safety expenses), and the result has been increased recycling costs. I believe the beacon has been lit for a larger-scale industry shift from free or no-cost recycling to a charge-based model over the next couple of years.
Right now, we have people spread out, but it would be nice to get back to our pre-COVID layout in terms of processing gear. We’ve had to use more warehouse space for processing and reduce headcounts in certain areas. As a result, our production has gone down. The best way to return to our growth zone is to have confidence in not worrying about people standing feet apart.
Encouraging, not requiring, vaccinations
Robert Burns, our director of marketing, acknowledged that getting the vaccine is a very personal choice. Segments of people remain split on the issue. Still, he noted that as more information gets released on COVID-19 vaccines, hopefully, everyone will start to feel like this is the best thing to do for themselves and their families.
While a vaccine is not currently mandatory at Sunnking, it’s not entirely out of the long-term discussion. I think it’s up to the individual employer. Right now, we’re merely hoping that as more people get vaccinated, more will feel comfortable getting the shot.
For the time being, we plan to push forward and focus on flexibility. We have to understand people’s personal decisions and expect to stick with masks and distance for at least the next six months. Without 100% of the workplace having vaccinated, one idea companies can do is to have a staggered approach. You could have non-vaccinated employees sandwiched between vaccinated staff members as an option.
We see business conditions improving as more people are vaccinated. California lost more than 1.2 million jobs, the most out of any state due to the pandemic. New York saw the second-highest job loss during the pandemic, losing approximately 670,000 jobs.
In April, the CDC reported more than 40% of New Yorkers received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. That’s encouraging news because health experts predict conditions will continue to improve as vaccination rates allow more aspects of the economy to reopen. And a continued reopening is just what processors like us need.
Adam Shine is vice president of electronics recycling and reuse company Sunnking, based in Brockport, N.Y.
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