Tyson Foods said Friday that its processing plant workers who are fully vaccinated for the coronavirus will begin earning up to 20 hours of paid sick leave per year, effective Jan. 1.
The policy will make Tyson the first U.S. company to provide paid sick leave to meatpacking workers, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 26,000 Tyson Foods workers.
These added benefits are the result of a recent deal struck between the union and Tyson over its new coronavirus vaccination mandate, effective Oct. 1 for office workers and Nov. 1 for meatpacking workers. Medical and religious exemptions also were negotiated.
Throughout the pandemic, Tyson has struggled with labor issues, from absenteeism to high turnover from worker illnesses and more. It is one of the few companies with a large processing plant workforce to impose a vaccination mandate. Companies have avoided this over concerns of worsening a labor shortage. However, as delta variant cases and hospitalizations rose across the country, Donnie King, Tyson's president and chief executive officer, said in a memo to workers that "getting vaccinated is the single most effective thing we can do."
To get workers on board before the deadline, Tyson has been offering free on-site vaccinations, health education materials and $200 "thank you" bonuses to fully vaccinated processing workers. The vaccinated are also eligible for a sweepstakes drawing to win thousands of dollars.
The company has increased pay plus benefits to $22 per hour for processing workers, in addition to referral and signing bonuses. It has allocated $6 million for the sweepstakes. Northwest Arkansas poultry processing workers who are fully vaccinated have a chance to win a prize of $10,000 each week in September.
According to Tyson, the incentives are working. More than 90,000 workers -- more than 75% of the company -- have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine. More than 30,000 workers have been vaccinated since the mandate was announced Aug. 3.
Union president Marc Peronne urged others across the industry to implement similar paid sick-leave policies so that "workers can get vaccinated without losing a paycheck."
"This historic agreement helps to ensure policies like paid leave are not just helping us increase vaccinations during the pandemic, but are also permanent improvements that strengthen these jobs and protect these workers for years to come," Peronne said in a written statement Friday.
Worker advocates have cited inadequate paid sick leave as a barrier preventing low-income workers from getting vaccinated.
A Harvard survey of service and retail workers found that nearly 60% of workers with access to paid sick leave had been vaccinated by May, compared with less than 50% of workers without that benefit. More than 9,000 workers at large companies were surveyed from March to May.
In addition to paid leave, Tyson said it will offer one week of vacation for new hires after six months of employment. The company also is offering paid leave for up to two weeks for workers who are fully vaccinated and test positive for the virus over the next six months.
"These measures are the latest examples of our ongoing efforts to make Tyson the most sought-after place to work," stated Johanna Soderstrom, Tyson's executive vice president and chief human resources officer.
Other companies, including Amazon and Walmart, have rolled out similar initiatives that encourage workers to get vaccinated, but stop short of a full mandate. Employers have introduced tougher vaccination policies since the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer's covid-19 vaccine.