Although Midwestern meatpacking plants became global hotspots for COVID-19 last April and May amid lax safety precautions, many employees have mixed feelings on taking the vaccine to protect themselves against new waves of the virus. And there’s also concern, as well as some resignation, over the new vaccine mandate that Tyson Foods is implementing for employees.
The food processor announced all corporate staff must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1 while the rest of their employees are required to do so by Nov. 1; otherwise, they will be terminated.
Iowa Starting Line reached out to many of our contacts at meatpacking plants in Iowa, all of whom insisted on speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to not risk their job.
Many expressed unease over a company mandate, while some repeated misinformation about vaccines or just had general mistrust toward them. Others worried that side effects from a shot, which are mild in the vast majority of cases, could cause them to miss work and thus be fired.
“I’ve been vaccinated, but for many of my coworkers, there’s a real fear that the vaccine will get them sick and if something happens to them, who’s going to provide for their families,” a Burmese refugee from an Iowa Tyson plant told Iowa Starting Line.
“Since I already have so many health issues, I am afraid of the reactions I am going to get after getting vaccinated,” said a Tyson worker in Perry. “I heard I can get a bad headache, nausea, and other side effects. I have no problem getting vaccinated, but I don’t want to have those side effects.”
Several Tyson workers who shared this fear said they are not clear on what the company will do if they become ill after getting vaccinated. These companies have a points system to ensure attendance, so either way, employees are in a predicament, one graver than the other.
One of the company’s failures, several workers said, is that Tyson did not provide much information about the vaccine, yet it was quick to circulate multilingual fliers on the mandate.
More than 166 million Americans have been vaccinated for the coronavirus and the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) has reported just 8,054 breakthrough cases, meaning vaccinated infections that have resulted in hospitalization and, in some cases, death.
Since February, Tyson has hosted more than 100 vaccination events for employees across the country and more than 56,000 US workers have been vaccinated, according to the company.
Tyson offered a $200 incentive to frontline workers who get vaccinated. Some locations, represented by unions, are holding ongoing discussions on the matter. However, this incentive motivated some who were on the fence to go ahead and vaccinate.
“I haven’t been vaccinated, but if the company is mandating to get the vaccine, I have no option but to get the vaccine,” said another worker from the Perry plant.
Another individual who works at the same location told Iowa Starting Line they have not been vaccinated because they are worried about their pregnant wife, but will do so to keep their job.
“I was afraid that if something happens to me, who is going to provide for my wife and child,” the worker said. “Although I am still concerned about the side effects, I am going to have to get vaccinated.”
A Latina Perry plant worker said she made a personal choice to get the vaccine and is in favor of others doing the same, but she is against the mandate.
“It is fair to ask people to get vaccinated, but I think it’s unfair to fire people if they don’t because there are many people that are afraid of the vaccine because they are misinformed,” she said. “Some think they won’t be able to have babies after getting vaccinated or are just afraid of the side effects.”
“As individuals, we have the right to make our own choices about our bodies, so I am not in favor of our company’s decision to mandate vaccines for all the workers,” said one employee who has been working at Tyson in Storm Lake for five years. “Although I got the vaccine a few months ago, I am against mandates because this is a free country.”
A relative of hers, who has worked at Tyson for about eight years, also was upset over the vaccine mandate.
“People that have been vaccinated are getting sick with COVID-19,” the relative said. “I am not going to get vaccinated and just wait until I get fired.”
By Claudia Thrane