By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Tyson Foods Inc confirmed on Wednesday it eliminated a requirement that employees receive COVID-19 vaccinations, a step the company said improved meatpacking operations after plants closed in 2020 due to outbreaks among workers early in the pandemic.
The biggest U.S. meat company by sales lifted the mandate on Oct. 31, one year after imposing it, according to a report Tyson filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday. The requirement “generally improved our ability to operate our business effectively in fiscal 2022,” the report said.
The virus now presents a lower threat than when Tyson decided in August 2021 to require that employees be vaccinated by that November, company spokesman Derek Burleson told Reuters on Wednesday.
“The risk of severe infection has decreased significantly, with many resources readily available including vaccines and boosters, testing, and improved treatment options,” Burleson said.
America’s largest meatpacking union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said it negotiated an agreement with Arkansas-based Tyson to end the mandate.
Tyson “worked to get the unions’ support to end the requirement, which was achieved,” Burleson said. He added that Tyson kept other safety protocols like requiring workers to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms.
Some Tyson workers remain worried about catching COVID-19 in chicken plants, said Magaly Licolli, director of Venceremos, an organization that advocates for poultry workers in Arkansas.
“There is still the pandemic,” said Licolli, who has criticized Tyson for not protecting plant employees. “Workers are getting sick over and over of COVID.”
Tyson runs slaughterhouses in rural areas where some residents were reluctant to get vaccinated. The company said last year it paid employees $200 to get vaccinated and also compensated workers if they were vaccinated outside normal work hours or away from a Tyson location.
Claudia Coplein, Tyson’s chief medical officer, said in August 2021: “Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the single most effective thing we can do to protect our team members, their families and their communities.” (Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by David Gregorio)