Tyson, which is based in Springdale, Ark., is still negotiating the matter with its unions, which represent about one third of its hourly work force.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” the company’s chief executive, Donnie King, wrote in a memo to employees announcing the news. “We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated — today, under half of our team members are.”
To date, more than 56,000 of Tyson’s U.S. 120,000 employees have been vaccinated. Tyson, which had about $43 billion in sales in 2020, is the largest meat and poultry processor in the United States, according to Statista.
Getting union leaders to sign off might be difficult. In an interview on Monday, before Tyson announced its mandate, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 24,000 Tyson employees in plants across the country, said he would not support employer mandates until the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine, which is currently being administered with an emergency authorization.
“You can’t just say accept the mandate or hit the door,’’ said Marc Perrone, the union’s president.
Companies, jolted by the Delta variant and eager for a return to normal, have announced a steady drumbeat of vaccine mandates for their employees over the past several weeks. But in the private sector, these requirements, which have come from Facebook, Google and Walmart and others, have so far largely focused on office workers rather than the more vulnerable frontline workers. Labor shortages that have affected industries including retail, restaurants and meatpacking have complicated the decision, which has been made more difficult by the economic divide separating those who have been vaccinated and those who have not.