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Tyson Foods to Mandate Vaccines for US Workforce

Aug. 3, 2021
The meats giant is the first in its COVID-troubled industry to mandate employees receive vaccines.

A major U.S. manufacturer is now instituting a vaccine mandate for its employees. Tyson Foods, Inc., announced new requirements August 3 that office employees be fully vaccinated by October 1. Full vaccinations for other employees that aren’t represented by unions must be fully vaccinated by November 1, and new hires must be fully vaccinated before they begin work.

The company employs about 120,000 people in the United States, according to the Associated Press and 139,000 people in total according to the company website.

The move makes Tyson Foods one of the first major manufacturers and first large food company to require its employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine. According to Tyson, less than half of its workforce has been vaccinated. The mandate will exempt workers who cite medical or religious exceptions.

Tyson Food’s Chief Medical Officer, Claudia Coplein, said that new contagious variants of the virus made the move necessary. “This is the right time to take the next step to ensure a fully vaccinated workforce,” she said in a statement.

In a memo to employees, Tyson Foods CEO Donnie King said Tyson leadership would also have to receive full vaccinations by September 24, and that employees who verify receipt of the vaccine would receive a $200 thank-you bonus.

“We did not take this decision lightly,” he wrote, noting the company has previously encouraged employees to get the shots, including by operating on-site employee vaccinations at sites in Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina and Iowa. Tyson Foods says those vaccination events have produced at least 56,000 vaccinations for employees so far.

“We take this step today because nothing is more important than our team members’ health and safety,” King wrote.

According to the CDC, which published a paper in May 2020 on the subject, meat and poultry facilities face a unique combination of challenges in terms of protecting employees from COVID transmission. Meatpacking sites typically involve employees working elbow-to-elbow in production lines that are difficult to modify or expand to allow for social distancing.

Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Smithfield Foods all struggled during 2020 with handling the virus. All three meat and poultry producers have had to idle plants full of essential employees due to coronavirus outbreaks, including one—Smithfield Foods’ Sioux Falls, South Dakota facility—that at one point made up more than 50% of all COVID-19 cases in the state.

For Tyson Foods and JBS USA, those plants were sometimes idled after essential workers simply refused to show up, and Tyson Foods and Smithfield management have both allegedly offered workers cash incentives for showing up consistently without missing shifts.

In December 2020, Tyson Foods closed an independent investigation into one of its own plants, confirming allegations that seven plant managers had placed bets on how many of their employees would eventually contract COVID. At least 1,000 people of 2,800 employees at the plant did, six of whom died. Tyson Foods’ then-CEO, Dean Banks, said the behavior did not represent company values.

About the Author

Ryan Secard | Associate Editor


Focus: Workforce and labor issues; machining and foundry management

Associate Editor Ryan Secard covers topics relevant to the manufacturing workforce, including recruitment, safety, labor organizations, and the skills gap. Ryan has written IndustryWeek's Salary Survey annually since 2021 and has coordinated its Talent Advisory Board since September 2023.

Ryan got started at IndustryWeek in August 2019 as an editorial intern and was hired as a news editor in 2020 before his 2023 promotion to associate editor, talent. He has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of Wooster.

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