Tyson Foods, the biggest U.S. food company, said Tuesday it is requiring all its employees to be fully vaccinated, joining a growing list of employers who are making vaccination a condition of further employment.
For months, Tyson said it has encouraged its 139,000 workers to get vaccinated, but to date only about 56,000 have been inoculated.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” Donnie King, Tyson’s president and chief executive, said of the mandatory vaccination requirement.
“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,” he said in a letter to Tyson workers.
Under the Arkansas-based company’s policy, Tyson workers at its U.S. locations must be vaccinated by October 1, with workers at its foreign locations vaccinated by November 1, although it plans to make exceptions to the directive for legitimate medical or religious reasons.
After individual workers are vaccinated, Tysons said it would pay them a $200 bonus, similar to what some other companies are doing to encourage vaccinations.
The U.S. meat-packing industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with critics saying Tyson, among others, has not done enough to protect its workers. Early in the pandemic last year, Tyson was forced to close some of its meat processing plants because of an outbreak of the virus.
The federal government said in May it was legal for employers to require their workers to get vaccinated.
As the virus seemed to be a diminished threat weeks ago, many companies started to make plans to reopen offices and there was little talk of requiring mandatory vaccinations.
Now, with the surging spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, major employers by the day are requiring vaccinations before employees can return to offices in the coming weeks.
U.S. President Joe Biden ordered more than 2 million federal workers to get vaccinated, without threatening to fire them if they did not. But he said they would be required to undergo frequent testing for the virus if they refused to get inoculated.
“Unlike a year ago, we have the ability to save lives and keep our economy growing,” Biden said Monday on Twitter. “We know we can dramatically lower the cases in the country. We can do this. Get vaccinated.”
The number of vaccinations in the U.S. had dropped for weeks, but with the spread of the delta variant, first discovered in India, the number of inoculations is on the rise again, to about 800,000 on Sunday.
But so are the number of new infections, to about 85,000 a day in the last week, up from about 10,000 daily a month ago. Some analysts say the number of new daily cases could reach 300,000 this month.
With the surge in the new cases, numerous companies have ordered their employees to get vaccinated, including the search engine company Google, social media company Facebook, the movie supply company Netflix, giant retailer Walmart, clothier Saks Fifth Avenue, The Washington Post newspaper, financial firms BlackRock and Morgan Stanley and ride share companies Uber and Lyft.
Major U.S. medical professional groups have called for mandatory vaccinations, but millions of health workers remain unvaccinated, with many workers resisting.
On Monday, the U.S. said it reached a new milestone, with 70% of all adults having at least one vaccination shot of the typical two-shot regimen, a figure achieved a month after the July 4 Independence Day goal that Biden had called for.
The government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that not quite half of the country’s total population of 332 million people has been fully vaccinated.