Tyson Foods said Tuesday it will require all of its workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November, a major step within a meat-processing industry that was hit hard by earlier waves of the pandemic.
CEO Donnie King said the company “did not take this decision lightly,” but it wanted to protect its 120,000 U.S. employees.
“We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated — today, under half of our team members are,” Mr. King 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.”
Mr. King said frontline workers who get the shots will receive $200 as a thank you.
Tyson said its leadership team has until Sept. 24 to be vaccinated, followed by office workers by Oct. 1.
All frontline workers, or “team members,” must be vaccinated by Nov. 1.
Meat-processing plants across the country were among the hardest-hit places earlier in the pandemic, raising questions about workplace safety and the nation’s meat supply.
Tyson Foods said it can’t risk a relapse as the fast-moving delta variant rips through communities.
“As people have heard, new variants of COVID-19 are more contagious, more deadly and responsible for most cases in America today. In some communities, doctors and hospitals are once again overwhelmed, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting nearly all hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. are among those who are unvaccinated,” Mr. King said. “It is abundantly clear that getting vaccinated is the single most effective thing we can do to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.”
The company said it will provide medical and religious exemptions, and the rules will be subject to bargaining before they are imposed on unionized workers.
But the move comes amid a nationwide push by public and private-sector employers to require vaccinations.
President Biden told federal workers to get vaccinated or face weekly testing, while governors and big-city mayors are rolling out similar measures for their government workers.
Big employers such as Disney, Google and Walmart have announced vaccine requirements for some or all of their workers.