Tyson Foods Mandates COVID Vaccine for U.S. Employees, But About Half Already Have Shot

Tyson Foods announced Tuesday that U.S. employees will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, becoming one of the first major employers of frontline workers to do so as the Delta variant makes its way across the country, the Associated Press reported.

The company said that members of its leadership team must be vaccinated by September 24 while the rest of the office workers have until October 1. The frontline workers will have until November 1, however, the specifics of that requirement are being negotiated with unions.

The company has staged more than 100 vaccination events since February and has just under half of its U.S. workforce, about 56,000 employees, vaccinated. The company planned on continuing these events and offered a $200 bonus for all frontline workers who got vaccinated.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tyson to Require COVID-19 Vaccine for Employees
Tyson Foods announced Tuesday that it wants all of its U.S. employees to be vaccinated, just under half of their workers have been already. Packages of Tyson-brand chicken products are displayed in the refrigerator section of an Associated Supermarket. Ramin Talaie/Corbis/Getty Images

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 news release, the company said the number of infections at its plant is currently low after the company spent $700 million on efforts to safeguard workers.

Employers have increasingly been imposing vaccine mandates for workers, frustrated that vaccination 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 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.

Unionized 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.

The task force encourages all workers to get vaccinations so mask requirements can eventually be relaxed.

However, Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the 397,000-member United Auto Workers, said the union is against vaccine requirements because some people have religious or health concerns about vaccinations.

Still, tougher vaccine rules are gaining traction among restaurants, bars and some big entertainment companies, both for workers and customers.

In Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International announced that unvaccinated employees would have to pay $15 to get tested for the virus onsite, or obtain a test offsite and bring in the results. The company also said that unvaccinated employees would not be paid for time off to quarantine if they test positive for the virus.

MGM Resorts has conducted several vaccination clinics and offered incentives including drawings for employees to win prizes such as hotel stays and cash. But President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle expressed frustration at the region's low vaccination rate in a letter to employees imploring them to get the shots.

"Our region's low vaccination rate is putting us back on the path to overrun hospitals, unnecessary deaths, fewer tourists, and possible furloughs and layoffs," Hornbuckle wrote. "None of us want that."

Tyson to Require U.S. Employees get Vaccinated
Tyson Foods will require all of its U.S. employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, becoming one of the first major employer of frontline workers to do so amid a resurgence of the virus. Tyson, one of the world’s largest food companies, announced Tuesday, Aug. 3, that members of the leadership team must be vaccinated by Sept. 24 and the rest of its office workers by Oct. 1. In this Feb. 2, 2021 file photo, Tyson Foods team members receive COVID-19 vaccines from health officials at the Wilkesboro, N.C. facility. Melissa Melvin/Associated Press