One of the largest meatpackers in the country has announced plans to require its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Tyson Foods says it will require all U.S. office employees to be fully vaccinated by the beginning of October; other employees — including the employees of its packing plants — must meet the same requirement by the beginning of November. The company notes the November timeline is “subject to ongoing discussions with locations represented by unions.” All company leadership will face a tighter deadline and are required to be vaccinated by Sept. 24.

According to Tyson, almost half of its U.S. workforce is vaccinated “and coronavirus infection rates among team members remain low.” Claudia Coplein, chief medical officer for Tyson Foods, said the vaccine “is the single most effective thing we can do to protect our team members, their families and their communities.”

“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,” she said. 

The company is also giving a $200 bonus to vaccinated frontline workers; new employees are required to be fully vaccinated prior to their start date.

A memo from Donnie King, the company’s president and CEO, to Tyson employees said the business “did not take this decision lightly.”

“We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated — today, under half of our team members are,” he said. “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.”

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A company spokesperson says the requirement is only in effect for its U.S. workforce at this time.

Marc Perrone — international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union that represents meatpacking, grocery, and retail employees — said UFCW supports workers getting the vaccine and has encouraged its members to do so, but "it is 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. 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.

Perrone said UFCW believes "the FDA must provide full approval of the vaccines and help address some of the questions and concerns that workers have." They're also pushing for paid time off for vaccination appointments, something Tyson says it is currently offering. 

Tyson says it has hosted more than 100 vaccination events and more than 56,000 U.S. employees have been vaccinated thus far. Additional onsite vaccination clinics are planned, “and the company will continue to collaborate with local health departments and healthcare providers to make the vaccine more accessible.”

The company will offer exemptions to the requirement for workers who seek a medical or religious accommodation.

The Arkansas-based company has facilities in more than 30 states and employs roughly 120,000 people in the U.S.

Story updated at 1:30 p.m. to include UFCW comment.

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