Tyson Foods Requires All Workers to Be Vaccinated

Tyson Foods Requires All Workers to Be Vaccinated
Donnie King, president and CEO of Tyson Foods Inc. in Springdale (Tyson Foods)

Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale said Tuesday that it will require all U.S. workers — some 120,000 people — be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1.

The move makes the publicly traded meat processor (NYSE: TSN) the largest U.S. food company to require vaccinations for its entire workforce. The company said that almost half of its U.S. workforce — 56,000 people — have been vaccinated already, but that it wants to do more.

"Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the single most effective thing we can do to protect our team members, their families and their communities," Chief Medical Officer Dr. Claudia Coplein said in a news release.

"With rapidly rising COVID-19 case counts of contagious, dangerous variants leading to increasing rates of severe illness and hospitalization among the U.S. unvaccinated population, this is the right time to take the next step to ensure a fully vaccinated workforce."

In a memo to employees, CEO Donnie King said the company does not take instituting a mandate lightly.

"We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated — today, under half of our team members are," he said. "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 company said employees at U.S. office locations must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. All other workers are required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, "subject to ongoing discussions with locations represented by unions." The company said it will allow exceptions to the mandate for workers who seek medical or religious accommodations. 

Also under discussion with union reps — a $200 payment to frontline employees who are vaccinated outside of their normal shift or through an external source. 

The pandemic has posed serious challenges to food industry, where employees often work shoulder to shoulder on production lines and supply chain delays can have significant effects on world markets. In the early weeks of the pandemic last year, Chairman John Tyson placed advertisements in major newspapers to address the emerging challenges, adding that "the food supply chain is breaking." 

Since then, the company has spent "more than $700 million" related to COVID-19 — everything from buying masks, face shields and temperature scanners to providing on-site testing and vaccinations. It began offering on-site vaccinations in March in Arkansas in partnership with Matrix Medical Network of Scottsdale, Arizona, and the state Health Department.

"Tyson Foods and Matrix Medical have worked together since the beginning of this pandemic to develop and implement strategies to mitigate the risk of the virus to Tyson employees and their families, as well as the communities where they live and work," Matrix Chief Medical Officer and Group President Dr. Daniel Castillo said.

The announcement of Tyson's vaccination mandate comes days after another major Arkansas employer, Walmart Inc. of Bentonville, said all workers at its headquarters and managers who travel within the U.S. must get shots by Oct. 4.

Other large employers are ramping up pressure on workers to get the vaccine, as the COVID-19 cases and hospitalization spike due to the virus' fast-spreading delta variant and low vaccination rates in some parts of the country, including Arkansas.

On Monday, the state reported 42 new COVID-19 deaths and its biggest one-day spike in coronavirus hospitalizations since the pandemic began, 81, bringing the total to 1,220. The Health Department said 451 of those patients are under intensive care and 250 are on ventilators.

But 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 frontline workers, in part to avoid fueling a labor 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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