Tyson Foods, one of America’s largest meatpacking companies, announced Tuesday that it would require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a policy change that is expected to affect more than half of its workforce.
Only about half of Tyson’s employees ― or about 56,000 people ― have had their shots so far, said the company, which supplies roughly 20% of the U.S. supply of beef, pork and chicken each year.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” Tyson CEO Donnie King said in a letter to employees. “We take this step today because nothing is more important than our team members’ health and safety, and we thank them for the work they do, every day, to help us feed this country, and our world.”
The meatpacking company is one of many large corporations and institutions across America that have begun implementing vaccine mandates for workers in recent weeks, amid the surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
Tyson is requiring all of its office workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1 and all front-line workers to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. All new hires will need to be vaccinated before their first day.
As a token of thanks, the company said, all front-line meatpacking employees will receive an additional $200 after providing verification of their vaccination status. Tyson has already been offering up to four hours of hourly workers’ pay for getting the shots outside their normal shifts in an effort to encourage more vaccinations.
Exceptions will be considered for those workers who seek “medical or religious accommodation,” the company noted.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, a union representing about 24,000 of Tyson’s 120,000 employees, rejects the mandate. In a statement, the union said the company should wait until the Food and Drug Administration grants the vaccines full approval, instead of the emergency use authorization licenses they have right now.
“While we support and encourage workers getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, and have actively encouraged our members to do so, it is concerning that Tysons is implementing this mandate before the FDA has fully approved the vaccine,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement.
Last year, in the early months of the pandemic, Tyson was besieged by coronavirus outbreaks in its packing plants, which normally require workers to stand close together in order to do their jobs, prompting temporary closures. Other meatpacking plants were hard-hit, as well.
Yet, in an article published Monday, the company told The Associated Press that it had held more than 100 vaccination events for its employees and had no plans to mandate the shots.
Tyson now says it will collaborate with local health providers and authorities to offer even more inoculation opportunities.
Employers across the U.S. are legally permitted to require the vaccine of their employees. Read more about vaccine mandates here.