Tyson Foods is requiring every employee nationwide to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nov. 1, including in Cass County.
However, those whom the company determines have a religious or medical reason for not receiving one will have an exception.
“We certainly don’t want to lose any team members,” said Spokesman Derek Burleson.
The company also offers incentives for vaccinations, education about the vaccinations and free vaccinations on site and has updated its compensation package for employees.
At the Cass County packing plant, about 70% of employees have received at least their first dose, according to Burleson.
He said the plant currently employs about 2,200 people.
Tyson is the largest employer in Cass County by a significant margin, according to Bill Cuppy, president of the Cass/Logansport Economic Development Organization.
Frontline employees who get fully vaccinated receive a $200 “thank you” from the company as an incentive. Tyson is also giving away more than $6 million in a sweepstakes to encourage employees to vaccinate.
Besides providing financial rewards, Tyson now offers up to two weeks of paid administrative leave for fully vaccinated employees who test positive for COVID-19 over the next six months.
The company will also compensate workers for the time they spend in education sessions learning the benefits and risks of the vaccines.
Unions that represent more than 80% of Tyson’s 31,000 national employees — The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the affiliated Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) — have given their support to the vaccination deadline, according to an official announcement from Tyson.
“As the largest union for Tyson Foods workers across the country, UFCW’s first priority is to keep these essential workers safe on the job as the COVID-19 Delta surge continues, and we recognize the need to do more,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone in the announcement.
He’s also quoted as strongly encouraging Tyson employees to get vaccinated and other companies in the industry to adopt similar policies.
Locally, Tyson shut down for about two weeks in mid-April 2020 because of COVID-19 infections.
At the time, Tyson was the epicenter of Cass County’s COVID-19 outbreak, according to Cass County Health Department Administrator Serenity Alter.
Cass was in the United States’ top 10 per capita COVID-19-infected places.
That high rate of infections put Cass, at times, two weeks behind the state’s plan to open up again.
Tyson’s national company has also announced changes in employee benefits.
Starting Jan. 1, employees who are fully vaccinated can begin earning up to 20 hours of paid sick leave per year, both union and non-union members.
Burleson said this is in addition to the short-term disability benefit employees already have.
Starting next year, new employees will also receive a week of vacation after six months of work. Currently, they receive it after a year of employment at the company, Burleson said.
These new benefits follow recent compensation benefits, including pay increases, referral and signing bonuses and other incentives.
“Tyson is also piloting flexible work schedules at its production facilities and has introduced health clinics at seven locations to allow easy and free access to health care,” according to the announcement.
Burleson said the changes were not from contract negotiations or because of recent labor shortages at most businesses. The company regularly reviews the compensation for its employees and changes it, he said.