Meat processer Tyson Foods will require all of its employees in the United States to get vaccinated against COVID-19, becoming one of the first major employers of front-line workers to do so amid a resurgence of the coronavirus.
One of the world’s largest food companies, Tyson said on Tuesday that members of its leadership team must be vaccinated by September 24 and the rest of its office workers by October 1. Its front-line workers must be vaccinated by November 1, although the company said the specifics were being negotiated with unions.
US officials said on Monday that COVID-19 cases, along with hospitalisations and deaths from the coronavirus, have increased in the last week, even as vaccination rates have picked up as concerns grow over the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there is an average of more than 66,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in the US, a 64 percent increase over the previous week and higher than the peak set in the summer of 2020.
Nothing is more important than our team members’ health and safety. We're taking the next step in fighting this pandemic and requiring all U.S. team members to be fully vaccinated by November 1, subject to discussions with locations represented by unions. https://t.co/5F1hDkZef8 pic.twitter.com/PK9A0EveZd
— Tyson Foods (@TysonFoods) August 3, 2021
Tyson said just under half of Tyson’s US workforce — about 56,000 employees — have been vaccinated since February, when the company began staging the first of more than 100 vaccination events.
The Springfield, Arkansas company plans to continue holding the events and offer a $200 bonus for all front-line workers who receive a coronavirus vaccine.
In a memo to employees, CEO Donnie King expressed alarm over the rise of the more contagious Delta variant and made clear the vaccine requirement was needed to overcome persistent hesitancy to get the shots.
“We did not take this decision lightly. We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated – today, under half of our team members are,” King wrote. “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.”
Tyson, whose brands include Jimmy Dean and Hillshire Farm, has grappled with deadly outbreaks of the virus at its plants and faced lawsuits from the families of some workers. In a press release, the company said the number of infections at its plant is currently low after the company spent $700m on efforts to safeguard workers.
US private employers have increasingly been imposing vaccine mandates for workers, frustrated that jab rates have plateaued despite months of information campaigns, bonuses, time off and other incentives for people to get the shots. Other employers, including the federal government and some state and local authorities, are requiring that unvaccinated workers put up with weekly testing.
But in the private sector, many of the vaccine mandates have come from companies with mostly office workers who are already largely vaccinated.
Many companies that rely on large low-income workforces, including Amazon, Walmart and major grocery chains, have so far declined to mandate vaccines for their front-line workers, in part to avoid fuelling a labour crunch and persistent worker turnover. Many unions also are firmly opposed to vaccine mandates for their workers.
The spread of the Delta variant is also prompting some companies to reimpose mask mandates for workers — even those who are vaccinated — in keeping with new guidance from the CDC.
Unionised auto workers at three companies — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis — will have to go back to wearing masks regardless of their vaccination status, according to a decision announced Tuesday by a task force of representatives from the companies and the United Auto Workers. The move comes just under a month after vaccinated union workers were allowed to shed their masks.