As concerns over COVID-19’s delta variant grow, major institutions are taking more drastic measures to control the outbreak. On Tuesday, Tyson Foods, one of the country’s largest meat producers, said it would require vaccines for all U.S. workers.
The mandate applies to roughly 120,000 workers in both offices and plants, and all of them must be fully vaccinated by November 1. The meat giant will also provide $200 bonuses to its frontline workers who get inoculated. Before the mandate, it offered up to four hours of pay to workers for doing so, and according to the company, around 56,000 of its total staff has been fully vaccinated.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” Tyson CEO Donnie King wrote in a memo to employees. “We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated—today, under half of our team members are.”
The move comes after a tough year for the meat industry, which was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as the virus tore through factories where workers toil in close quarters, infecting tens of thousands of plant employees and causing an estimated 130 deaths. Some companies, including Tyson, were forced to shutter their facilities, contributing to a nationwide meat shortage. Other companies—also including Tyson—came under fire for failing to adequately protect their employees.
But Tyson, which is based in Springdale, Arkansas, is among the first to require vaccines for a huge swath of blue-collar workers. Recent mandates from big companies such as Google and Facebook have focused mainly on staff across office campuses.
Tyson said it would allow medical and religious exemptions; however, other terms of the mandate—including compensation and deadline—are still subject to discussions with labor leaders who represent about a third of the company’s hourly workers. And as the New York Times reports, getting their sign-off could be difficult: In a recent interview, Marc Perrone, president of United Food and Commercial Workers, said he would not support such mandates until the vaccines were fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Meanwhile, in New York, vaccine pressure is also building: Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that the city would become the first to require proof of vaccination for indoor dining, gyms, and performances.