US labor unions are backing mandatory vaccinations

Tyson is backing mandatory vaccinations for all workers.
Tyson is backing mandatory vaccinations for all workers.
Image: REUTERS/Adam Shrimplin
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Tyson Foods, the first US meatpacking company to require Covid-19 vaccinations for its entire workforce, received a stamp of approval from labor unions last week to mandate all its workers be vaccinated by Nov. 1.

The company also agreed, after negotiating with the unions who represent about 80% of Tyson’s US employees to a new paid leave policy. Workers will be able to earn up to 20 hours of paid sick, since some workers who have not received the vaccination said it’s due to not wanting to miss work from illness, as well as lack of awareness about their paid sick leave options.

Tyson will also provide precautions and safeguards for those with medical and religious protections, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

“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,” said Marc Perrone, UFCW international president, in a statement.

Labor unions play a role in getting workers vaccinated

Mandatory vaccinations have so far largely been reserved for white-collar workers, but there’s been recent momentum with some labor unions supporting employers’ efforts to vaccinate all workers. In August, AT&T said it was having discussions with labor unions on mandating shots. Meanwhile, Disney reached a deal late last month with unions representing workers at Disney World in Florida that will require workers to show proof of Covid-19 vaccinations.

There had been some resistance to a full vaccination mandate, as labor officials said they wanted to wait for Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines to address concerns essential workers’ concerns about safety of the vaccine. They have also advocated for paid time off for workers to recover from the vaccination. “As the nation’s largest union for frontline retail and food workers, UFCW has made clear that vaccine mandates must be negotiated so that these workers have a voice in the new policies,” said Perrone.

Food and agriculture workers were some of the hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. In response, Tyson has mandated higher wages, piloted child care services at manufacturing plants, and has doled out $200 bonuses to essential workers who get fully vaccinated. More than 75% of the company’s US 31,000 employees have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of Sept. 3.

“We’re pleased that the UFCW and RWDSU are joining us in taking this important step,” said Johanna Söderström, the executive vice president and chief human resources officer of Tyson Foods, in a statement. “Getting vaccinated remains the single most effective thing we can do to fight this pandemic and continue to help feed this country and our world.”