Tyson wins union support for worker vaccine mandate

Dive Brief:

  • Tyson Foods has won union support for its mandate that all U.S. workers must be vaccinated by Nov. 1, following an agreement between the meat processor and the United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store (RWDSU) unions, which represent more than 80% of the 31,000 Tyson workers in the U.S. who are unionized. 
  • Beginning in 2022, fully vaccinated frontline employees can earn up to 20 hours of paid sick leave per year, and new hires will receive one week of vacation after six months of employment. Tyson has agreed to medical and religious accommodations to the vaccine mandate. In addition, it has granted a $200 bonus to frontline team members who are fully vaccinated and is giving out more than $6 million in sweepstakes prizes.
  • More than 75% of Tyson’s U.S. staff have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The company said that over 30,000 team members have been vaccinated since it announced the vaccine mandate in early August. 

Dive Insight:

This announcement marks a turning point for Tyson and other food and beverage manufacturers that are considering mandating vaccines.

In early August after Tyson first announced its vaccine requirement, the UFCW, which represents 24,000 Tyson meatpacking workers in the U.S., had voiced concern that the company was “implementing this mandate before the FDA has fully approved the vaccine.” At that time, “nearly half” of Tyson’s U.S. workforce was vaccinated.

However, not even a month after the union issued the statement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. Several days after the government’s announcement, the UFCW publicly showed support for the meat giant’s vaccine mandate, with the union’s president Marc Perrone saying in a statement that other manufacturers should follow suit.

“Every company in America must follow Tyson’s lead and act now to guarantee paid leave to help even more of our country’s essential workers get vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said.

Tyson is also offering up to two weeks of paid administrative leave for fully vaccinated employees who test positive for COVID-19 over the next six months, and compensating workers for time spent in educational sessions about the COVID vaccines. 

The FDA approval obviously helped Tyson’s union negotiations. And it comes at a pivotal time for the meat processor, which has faced a labor shortage along with the rest of the food and beverage industry as the economy has reopened. A recent report from the Consumer Brands Association found that the CPG industry is facing a “labor crisis,” despite rising wages. Tyson’s average base pay, which includes medical, dental and vision benefits, is currently valued at more than $22 per hour, the company said.

Tyson is the largest U.S. food company so far to require COVID-19 vaccinations for its entire workforce, although others have since announced requirements for at least some employees. JBS USA, the country’s largest meat manufacturer, is currently requiring new hires in its corporate offices to be vaccinated. It has also rolled out a vaccination program for frontline workers that includes onsite clinics, paid time off and a $100 incentive bonus.

Canadian meat producer Maple Leaf Foods, which spent over $50 million in 2020 to enact COVID-19 protection protocols, recently announced that it will require corporate members to show proof of vaccination beginning in September.

And Kraft Heinz has also announced that all U.S. office employees need to prove they are fully vaccinated before returning to offices in January.

It is clear food manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping their employees healthy and able to work. Tyson’s success in negotiating mandated vaccines at all levels of its workforce may be the catalyst that allows for more negotiations between CPG companies and unions as the pandemic persists and demand continues to grow.

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