Earlier this week, Tyson Foods announced it would be the first major meatpacking company to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees.
The meat processor said that all employees in its United States offices must be vaccinated against the virus by October. (All non-US employees must be vaccinated by November.)
During the early days of the pandemic, Tyson Foods was slow to implement safety measures and protective equipment, and plant managers were alleged to tell workers to come in while sick, even betting (allegedly, again) on how many employees would contract COVID-19.
Meatpacking plants, classified as “essential” and forced to remain open by an executive order, require—at least in the large plants like Tyson’s—lots of close contact and sometimes on-campus housing, which are ideal conditions for spreading a contagious virus. Tens of thousands of meatpacking plant workers tested positive for the disease; hundreds died. Lawsuits and Congressional investigations followed.
Tyson’s new plan affects roughly 120,000 employees, ranging from office workers to meatpacking plant workers, although it doesn’t include poultry farmers who contract exclusively with the company. (Those are not technically Tyson employees, although the system makes them de facto Tyson workers.) The company says it will continue to schedule vaccination events on-site at many of its locations and will compensate employees for time missed while getting vaccinated, if they do so off-site. The company’s press release announcing the policy does note that exceptions will be made for those with medical or religious reasons for not wanting the vaccine; there have been some instances of indistinct mixing of religion and politics in vaccine refusals.
This move makes Tyson the largest food company in the United States to require vaccination for its employees. It’s commendable, although it’s also important to note that COVID-19 has been an absolute nightmare for Tyson, with workers getting sick and dying, multiple lawsuits and investigations, as well as heaps of bad press. If the company can reduce the impact of COVID-19 on its business, well, that’s just good business.