When COVID-19 infections began blitzing meatpacking plants last year, no company’s workers bore the brunt of the pandemic quite like those of Tyson Foods, the enormous purveyor of chicken, beef, and pork. Some 12,536 of the company’s 120,000 US employees have tested positive for the virus, and 39 have died from it, according to the news organization FERN—in both cases, more than twice the counts of any other meatpacking firm. Back in December, Tyson fired seven managers at an Iowa pork-processing plant after an investigation into claims that they had placed bets on how many workers would contract the virus.
With the highly contagious Delta variant circulating in the United States, Tyson has emerged as the first meatpacking company to mandate that all its employees—from executives to workers on the kill floor—be vaccinated against COVID. Current packinghouse workers will have until November 1 to go through a full course of vaccine shots; new hires will have to show proof of vaccination before their start dates. The company’s announcement doesn’t mention whether workers will be given paid time off to receive and recover from the shots, but it is offering a $200 bonus to fully vaccinated team members “as thank you for doing your part to keep us all safe.” (Tyson did not respond to requests for comment on whether workers will be offered time off to get the jabs.)
Workers in some Tyson plants belong to unions, and that could complicate efforts to enforce the edict. Vaccination requirements for unionized workers “will be subject to the results of union bargaining on this issue,” the Tyson announcement states.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 24,000 Tyson workers, stated in a Tuesday press release that “we support and encourage workers getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, and have actively encouraged our members to do so,” but also expressed concern about the company’s decision to require vaccinations before the US Food and Drug Administration has fully approval them. (COVID vaccines now on the market are available under a provisional Emergency Use Authorization pending formal approval.)
Perrone added that the union will meet with Tyson in the coming weeks “to ensure that the rights of these workers are protected, and this policy is fairly implemented,” emphasizing that “employers should provide paid time off so that their essential workers can receive the vaccine without having to sacrifice their pay, and can rest as needed while their body adjusts to the vaccine and strengthens their immune system to fight off the virus.”