Welcome back everyone! I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are excited to get back to work! OK, maybe you’re not all that thrilled to be at work, but it is going to be an exciting year for us. I always enjoy sending out Christmas cards, I hope you got yours. It was not the same without putting a check in each one. For years I have been including a check in everyone’s card, first as Christmas bonuses and later as profit-sharing bonuses as we began to make a profit. This year was the first time we began a quarterly profit sharing and did not send them out with Christmas cards. We will hopefully be seeing profit sharing in the later part of January for the 4th quarter of 2021. If the region is profitable, you should see it the second payroll in January or on the 28th of January.
Coronavirus. Yes, we still have COVID-19 around and it is still creating uncertainty in our lives. It was two years ago as I write this that COVID-19 was first reported, on December 30th, 2019. As we roll into January 2022, COVID-19 with its Omicron variant is making an impact on our daily lives still. The daily cases of COVID in the US and the rest of the world have spiked to new highs. We are not sure where it’s going to end up, but it looks like the virus will be bigger than the previous surge filling up the hospital beds and causing more healthcare workers to work long hours with no rest. The Omicron variant does not appear to be near as deadly as the Delta variant to the vaccinated. Booster shots are now available for those that have been vaccinated and there is talk of a second booster coming soon. It appears this virus may mutate into something like the flu has become and which is an ever-present but more a short-term annoyance, at least to those that have been vaccinated, and annual boosters become the norm, just like the flu. At least that’s what we can hope for, I guess. Maybe the best of the terrible scenarios.
Vaccine Mandate. It’s here. The vaccine mandate put in place by the Biden administration that applies to companies with 100 or more employees has held up in court and will begin to be enforced after the first of the year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard external icon applies to all employers with 100+ employees and requires all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested on a weekly basis and to have a negative test before coming to work. Fortunately, home testing has become readily available and that will be an alternative to getting the vaccine for those against it. Unfortunately, the cost to take these tests each week fall on the employee and will not be covered by insurance. This is going to create a tremendous amount work on our end to track all their requirements and to enforce them. We need to keep this information up to date and to have a program in place and actively manage it or Lone Star will face a fine of $13,653 per violation and that can raise to $136,652 for repeated violations. HR has already begun the process of cataloging those that have been vaccinated. Paycom has added a feature to our payroll system to track these mandates and weekly testing. Ramona has begun the process of populating Paycom with our current information. She may be contacting each of you to make sure we have the most current information including booster shots. For those not vaccinated, she will coordinate how we gather weekly test results so that we can stay in compliance with the new regulations. This will be a burden on our HR department, but as with all of these new rules, we will learn to adapt.
Internal Education Assistance. The criteria are simple: take a class that relates to Lone Star in some manner. It does not directly have to apply to your job. It could apply to a job you might want to pursue in the company. Lone Star does not pay for horseback riding lessons, though that might be fun, but it would pay for an electronics course, drafting course, grammar or writing course. Something that could be valuable to a position at Lone Star. How about a class in Artificial Intelligence or Database Management? The classes are many, please take some classes and get your education paid for you.
Employees’ Children. Talking about classes, we have had some conversations about providing a scholarship program for the children of Lone Star employees. We are early in the conversations, but it is the intent of management to provide some funding that employees’ children could compete for each year to assist them with college funding. It will probably start out small, around $500 or $1,000 per semester, and will involve some kind of competition such as writing a paper on how the funding would be used and what their long-term goal looks like. But it will be something available to only the children of Lone Star employees, so the likelihood of receiving the scholarship is very high. Let me know if you think this is a good idea and if you would like to see Lone Star create this type of employee benefit.
Growth. Lone Star grew a little last year. We had growth in all regions ranging from 5% to 18% in one location. We must grow each year for Lone Star to continue to create opportunities for its employees. Opportunities such as management, program management, project management, engineering, Information Technology and programmer positions: these are just some of the positions added throughout the company in 2021, and there will be more created in 2022. As I mentioned in the December newsletter, we will be opening a new office in Memphis this year and we will need people to move there either on a temporary basis or permanently. We fully expect that office to become as big as our office in Georgetown over time. We are in discussion with other companies about other markets as well. This year, 2022, will be an exciting year for Lone Star!
Emplify Survey. The usual quarterly Employee satisfaction survey will be coming your way very soon. Please complete this as soon as it hits your mailbox. This feedback is critical to programs our Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) develops to benefit YOU. With similar questions being asked each time, they can gauge the success or need for improvement in all areas of our business as it relates to the employee. Your anonymous feedback comments give you the opportunity to share valuable insights and helpful suggestions where you see improvements can be made.
Celebration. As we continue to celebrate this the 30th anniversary year for Lone Star Communications, we want to also celebrate the fact that you, the employees, have enabled us to officially be awarded “Top Workplaces” both locally and nationally. There is more to come on this, but you will start seeing the addition of the “Top Workplaces” icon in email signatures, on our webpage, and more in coming days. Thank you for making Lone Star such a great company and an exciting place to work! Until next month, Ray.
- Ray Bailey, President