Tyson Foods becomes first plant in Vicksburg to require vaccinations for employees

Published 10:44 am Thursday, August 5, 2021

Tyson Foods announced Tuesday the company will require all employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nov. 1.

Tyson’s branch facility in Vicksburg becomes the first large industrial company in the city to require vaccinations for employees, Executive Director of Vicksburg Economic Partnership Pablo Diaz said. He said it is unknown if other industrial businesses in Vicksburg will follow suit.

“We don’t know what they will do or not do because those decisions are made at the headquarters (outside of the area),” Diaz said.

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This announcement comes after over a year of meat shortages in stores, sick employees and facility shutdowns and wasted product due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tyson Foods was forced to close its doors multiple times as employees became infected with the virus causing a chain of events.

In April 2020, CEO of Tyson Foods, John Tyson, wrote in the New York Times that “the food supply chain is breaking” as shutdowns of its facilities continued. With short staffing and closed doors, the company could not process and package its chicken, beef and pork. This caused shortages in grocery stores and lost product, as farmers with nowhere to sell their animals had to humanely kill the product without plans for consumption.

Throughout the pandemic, nearly 200 of The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union meatpacking and food processing workers died from the virus, according to UFCW, which represents 24,000 of 120,000 Tyson workers. The union said at least 35,500 of its meatpacking and food processing workers were infected with COVID-19.

The company is hoping the requirement of vaccinations will keep their employees healthy and avoid food shortages by allowing their facilities to remain open without the threat of an outbreak.

“We’re taking this step because there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our team members,” Tyson Foods representative Derek Burleson said. “Given concerns about the spread of the new variant, we also believe it’s the right thing to do for the continued operation of our facilities.”

Burleson said currently the infection rate within the company is very low but it is important to them to stay ahead of the Delta variant.

The UFCW said in a statement about the Tyson vaccine mandate that they encourage workers to get the vaccine and credit it with lowering infection rates in the meatpacking industry. However, the union also stated they had concerns about the mandate, such as implementing the mandate before the FDA has fully approved it.

“We believe the FDA must provide full approval of the vaccines and help address some of the questions and concerns that workers have,” the UFCW stated. “Additionally, employers should provide paid time off so that their essential workers can receive the vaccine without having to sacrifice their pay, and can rest as needed while their body adjusts to the vaccine and strengthens their immune system to fight off the virus.”

The UFCW stated they will be meeting with Tyson in the coming weeks to discuss the current mandate as they believe a new one must be negotiated to protect the rights of the workers, give workers a voice and make sure it is implemented fairly.

According to the mandate, company leaders must have their vaccination by Sept. 24, employees in offices need theirs by Oct. 1 and all other employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. Frontline workers, who are verified in their Vaccination Verification Program, will receive a $200 bonus after getting their vaccine as a thank-you. The company said they will consider requests for exemptions based on religious or health reasons, but vaccination is a condition of employment.