Meatpacker Tyson Foods announced Tuesday that it will require its 120,000 U.S. employees to be vaccinated fully this year and will pay them a $200 bonus to do so.
The company said 56,000 U.S. employees have been vaccinated. Office workers face a deadline of Oct. 1 to be vaccinated fully, while plant employees have until Nov. 1.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the seven-day average of new infections surpassed last summer’s peak, before the country had access to vaccines. U.S. COVID-19 cases, based on a seven-day moving average, reached 72,790 on Friday, according to the agency’s data. The delta variant is fueling the surge in cases, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.
“It is abundantly clear that getting vaccinated is the single most effective thing we can do to protect ourselves, our families and our communities,” CEO Donnie King said in a memo to employees.
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Tyson plans to give front-line workers who get vaccinated the $200 bonus, in addition to the current policy of providing up to four hours of pay for getting inoculated outside of work or through an external provider. The extra pay, as well as the deadline, are subject to talks with unions who represent those employees.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 24,000 Tyson workers, said that it will be meeting with Tyson in the coming weeks to discuss the mandate and make sure that the workers’ rights are protected. The union said that it encourages workers to get vaccinated but noted several concerns about the company’s vaccine mandate.
“We believe the FDA must provide full approval of the vaccines and help address some of the questions and concerns that workers have,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement to CNBC. “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.”
Tyson said it will allow exceptions to the vaccine mandate for medical or religious reasons.
Throughout the pandemic, many meat and poultry processing facilities have been forced to close temporarily after outbreaks of COVID-19 swept through their workforce. Conditions in the plants require employees to work closely together for hours at a time, making social distancing nearly impossible. Group housing and shared transportation to and from work also increase contact among workers.
At least 132 meatpacking workers who belonged to the UFCW have died after contracting COVID-19, according to the union.
A version of this story first appeared on CNBC.com.