Tyson Foods is sweetening benefits for employees in its effort to encourage vaccinations, offering up to 20 hours of paid sick for workers who get shots.

The company and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) announced an agreement Friday with that benefit, which will go into effect Jan. 1. The company also said new hires will receive a week of vacation after six months of employment.

The agreement also has the support of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RDWSU). UFCW represents about 26,000 Tyson workers, and together with RWDSU, the two unions represent more than 80% of the 31,000 Tyson Foods workers in the U.S. who are unionized.   

UFCW said it’s the “first national U.S. agreement to provide paid sick leave to meatpacking workers.”

Of Tyson’s 120,000 U.S. employees, more than 90,000 have been vaccinated, including more than 30,000 since the company announced in early August that all workers have to be vaccinated by Nov. 1.

At that time, UFCW International President Marc Perrone expressed concern that Tyson was acting to require shots before the Food and Drug Administration had fully approved a vaccine. FDA has since done so, granting full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Aug. 23.

“Paid sick leave is critical to ensuring workers can get vaccinated without losing a paycheck,” Perrone said Friday in a news release. “As part of this deal, UFCW has ensured that Tyson's vaccine mandate will be implemented fairly and protect the rights of workers by allowing for medical and religious exemptions where appropriate.”

Under the agreement, UFCW said Tyson’s mandate “will now provide precautions and safeguards for medical, religious, and other protections,” which the union explained in answer to a question means that “Tyson workers can request medical and religious exemptions from the vaccine requirement, [which] will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

“We’ll consider requests from team members who asked to be exempt for medical or religious reasons, but vaccinations are a condition of employment,” Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson said. “We don’t want to lose any of our team members. We’ll continue to do our best to educate them about the vaccinations, answer their questions and address their concerns.”

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Burleson added, “It’s important to note the company is implementing the same improvements to benefits at all our U.S. facilities, for all our team members, union and non-union.” Tyson workers can get vaccines on-site and free, the company said.

UFCW, which represents 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers nationwide, said it’s “calling for similar paid sick leave policies from all companies across the industry to ensure more frontline workers can get the vaccine without fear of losing a paycheck.”

Tyson said it is "giving $200 as a thank you to fully vaccinated frontline team members as well as giving out more than $6 million in sweepstakes to incentivize vaccinations."

The company also said it has already instituted “recent compensation improvements,” including pay increases and other incentives such as referral and signing bonuses.

“The average base pay plus benefits for Tyson’s U.S. production workers is currently valued at more than $22 per hour, which includes medical, vision and dental benefits,” Tyson said. It’s also “piloting flexible work schedules at its production facilities and has introduced health clinics at seven locations to allow easy and free access to health care.”

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