Meatpacker Tyson Foods announced Tuesday that it would require its U.S. employees to be vaccinated fully this year.
The company said 56,000 U.S. employees, representing less than half of its domestic workforce, has been vaccinated so far. Office workers face a deadline of Oct. 1 to be vaccinated fully, while plant employees have until Nov. 1.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the seven-day average of new Covid cases surpassed last summer’s peak, before the country had access to vaccines. U.S. Covid cases, based on a seven-day moving average, reached 72,790 on Friday, according to the agency’s data. The delta variant is fueling the surge in cases, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.
“It is abundantly clear that getting vaccinated is the single most effective thing we can do to protect ourselves, our families and our communities,” Tyson CEO Donnie King wrote in a memo to employees.
Tyson plans to give frontline workers who get vaccinated a $200 bonus, in addition to the current policy of providing up to four hours of pay for getting inoculated outside of work or through an external provider. The extra pay, as well as the deadline, are subject to talks with unions who represent those employees.
The company said it would allow exceptions to the vaccine mandate for medical or religious reasons.
Throughout the pandemic, many meat and poultry processing facilities have been forced to close temporarily after outbreaks of Covid-19 swept through their workforce. Conditions in the plants require workers to be close together for hours at a time, making it nearly impossible to social distance. Shared transportation to and from work and congregate housing also increases contact among workers.
In the last year, at least 132 meatpacking workers who belonged to the United Food and Commercial Workers have died after contracting Covid-19, according to the union.