When Tyson Foods announced on Aug. 3 that it would require coronavirus vaccines for all 120,000 of its U.S. employees, it was notable because it included frontline workers at a time when corporate mandates applied primarily to office workers. At the time, less than half of its work force was inoculated.
Nearly two months later, 91 percent of Tyson’s U.S. work force is fully vaccinated, said Dr. Claudia Coplein, Tyson’s chief medical officer, who spoke to the DealBook newsletter about the results of its policy.
Tyson did not release vaccination rates by type of worker, but “certainly the vaccination rate amongst our frontline workers was lower than our office-based workers at the beginning of this,” Dr. Coplein said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents several thousand Tyson workers, endorsed the mandate in return for more benefits, like paid sick leave. Frontline workers have until Nov. 1 to get vaccinated (or request an exemption), while the company’s roughly 6,000 office workers have until Friday to do so.
Tyson said that about 91 percent of its 31,000 unionized employees are now vaccinated, matching the company’s overall rate. Unlike some other big companies, Tyson has not faced any lawsuits over its mandate, but it has lost a handful of employees over its mandate, a number that may increase as the deadline nears.
One of the company’s poultry plants achieved a 100 percent vaccination rate, from 78 percent, after Covid hit close to home. A viral video about Caleb Reeves, a young Arkansas man who died of Covid, helped to highlight the risk of the virus to young people, “and we have many young frontline workers,” Dr. Coplein said. Mr. Reeves’s uncle worked at a Tyson plant, and the video “gave them a personal connection to say, ‘Hey, that could be my family, too,’” Dr. Coplein said.
Tyson executives have visited plants to have small group conversations about the vaccines. “It’s important to recognize that misinformation is out there,” Dr. Coplein said. Some questions she regularly hears are whether vaccination will affect fertility or pregnancy (the evidence suggests not).
“The most powerful conversations have been when I sat down with somebody who was scared or emotional or otherwise hesitant to get the vaccine,” she said, “and they just really needed somebody to listen to them with empathy.”
Fortune 500 companies and the White House’s Covid task force have reached out to Tyson to discuss the company’s experience, particularly after the White House asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to order large employers to make vaccination mandatory.
Tyson expects that when OSHA outlines more details and a timeline for mandates, which could take weeks, more companies will announce vaccine requirements. When that happens, the options will be limited for those who quit (or are let go) because of a mandate.
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