By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Tyson Foods Inc confirmed on Wednesday it has eliminated the requirement that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, a step the company says has improved meatpacking operations after the closure of factories in 2020 due to outbreaks among workers at the start of the pandemic.
The largest U.S. meat company by sales lifted the mandate Oct. 31, a year after imposing it, according to a report Tyson filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The requirement “generally improved our ability to operate our business effectively in fiscal year 2022,” the report said.
The virus now poses less of a threat than when Tyson decided in August 2021 to require employees to be vaccinated by November, company spokesman Derek Burleson told Reuters on Wednesday.
“The risk of serious infection has decreased significantly, with many resources readily available, including vaccines and boosters, testing, and improved treatment options,” Burleson said.
The largest U.S. meatpacking union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said it negotiated a deal with Arkansas-based Tyson to end the term.
Tyson “worked to get union support to end the requirement, which was achieved,” Burleson said. He added that Tyson was keeping other safety protocols, such as requiring workers to self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19.
Some Tyson workers remain worried about catching COVID-19 at chicken plants, said Magaly Licolli, director of Venceremos, an organization that advocates for poultry workers in Arkansas.
“There’s always the pandemic,” said Licolli, who faulted Tyson for failing to protect factory workers. “Workers are getting sick again and again from 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 of normal working hours or away from a work site. Tyson.
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)