Tyson Foods announced Tuesday that it will require all of its roughly 120,000 U.S. employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The food processing company said about half of its workforce has already chosen to voluntarily be vaccinated. The other half will have until either Oct. 1 or Nov. 1 to get fully vaccinated, depending on where they work.
Those in meat processing plants will have until Nov. 1, although the company said the requirement will be subject to ongoing discussions with locations represented by unions.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International, said it's "concerning that Tyson is implementing this mandate before the FDA has fully approved the vaccine."
"As the union for Tyson meatpacking workers, UFCW has made clear that this vaccine mandate must be negotiated so that these workers have a voice in the new policy," Perrone said in a statement. "UFCW will be meeting with Tyson in the coming weeks to discuss this vaccine mandate and to ensure that the rights of these workers are protected, and this policy is fairly implemented."
Tyson said it will allow limited exemptions based on health and religious reasons. It did not say what consequences employees will face if they don't get vaccinated.
The move appears to make Tyson the first company with a significant employment presence in Nebraska to require vaccinations.
The company employs thousands of workers at plants in Dakota City, Lexington, Madison and Omaha, which also were the source of COVID-19 outbreaks last year. Tyson also employs several hundred workers at Smart Chicken facilities in Waverly and Tecumseh.
“Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the single most effective thing we can do to protect our team members, their families and their communities,” Dr. Claudia Coplein, chief medical officer of Tyson Foods, 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.”
Tyson Foods said it has hosted more than 100 vaccination events for employees across the country, and more than 56,000 have been vaccinated so far. Additional onsite vaccination events will be scheduled, and the company will continue to collaborate with local health departments and health care providers to make the vaccine more accessible.
The company also said it will offer $200 to front-line workers to encourage them to get vaccinated.
Taylor Gage, a spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts, said the governor acknowledges that private businesses have the ability to require their employees to get vaccinated, but he "strongly opposes vaccine mandates, especially while the vaccine remains under emergency use authorization."
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