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Employers Threaten to Fire Unvaccinated Workers

A growing number of large-scale employers are implementing policies to fire employees for failure to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with some exceptions.

Tyson Foods is one of the latest companies to join the list. The nation’s largest meat supplier made the announcement to its 120,000 production and office workers on August 3.

“Vaccinations are a condition of employment,” Derek Burleson, a spokesperson for Tyson told Health Care News. “We’re taking this step because there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our team members. Given concerns about the spread of the new variant, we also believe it’s the right thing to do for the continued operation of our facilities. We’ll continue to do our best to educate team members about the vaccinations, answer their questions and address their concerns.”

Burleson said Tyson would consider medical and religious exemptions to getting the vaccine.

Low Case Numbers

In August 2020, the Arkansas-based company announced a novel approach to better trace virus transmission by using an algorithm instead of widespread testing of employees. The company also expanded its health staff and hired a new chief medical officer in response to the pandemic.

“The number of COVID-19 cases involving Tyson team members remains low. We’re concerned about the spread of the new variant and staying ahead of it,” Burleson said. “That’s why we believe requiring vaccinations is so important. Once our frontline team members are fully vaccinated and verified in our Vaccination Verification Program, they will receive $200 as thank you for doing their part to keep us all safe, subject to ongoing discussions with our unions.”

Burleson would not say whether there was government pressure to mandate vaccines or what the company would do if vaccine mandates fail to stop workers from getting sick with the virus.

Spreading Fast

Tyson is not alone in threatening to fire workers for refusing the vaccine.

Computer software giant Microsoft said it would require proof of vaccination from its 100,000 employees as well as vendors and guests who want to enter the corporate campus. Google and Disney are mandating vaccines for workers, and Netflix, Uber, and Walmart are requiring the shots for parts of their workforce.

The New York Times reported on August 5 CNN fired three workers for coming to work unvaccinated.

White House Praise

At a press briefing, President Joe Biden praised the mandates.

“I want to thank Walmart, Google, Netflix, Disney, Tyson Foods for their recent actions requiring vaccination for employees,” Biden said. “Look, I know this isn’t easy, but I will have their backs.”

Biden has been getting pushback for requiring all federal workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or comply with more rules about masks, testing, and social distancing. The federal government employs about four million people, many of whom belong to labor unions.

There will be a lot of push back. It’s going to be an avalanche,” Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, stated in an article in the Washington Post on July 29.

Praise for Exemptions

Tyson’s promise to grant exemptions is getting a positive response from an advocate for employees.

“Tyson is doing the right thing to say at the outset that they will accept medical and religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination because my experience has been that many employers, schools, and retail businesses have ignored the law on exemptions,” said Doug Seaton, an attorney, and president of Upper Midwest Law Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The firm has been representing unvaccinated workers trying to keep their jobs.

“Employees should be prepared to present any evidence they have of their medical/disability condition or their religious faith’s position against vaccination,” Seaton said. “Just saying so is not likely to be enough, and it will be necessary to do something as an alternative, such as masking, testing, and other measures.”

Some churches have been encouraging people to get the vaccines, which might make it difficult for some employees to get a letter of support from a minister.

Piling On

Governments are joining the effort to force people to vaccinate.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced people will have to show vaccine proof to enter any indoor restaurant, gym, or performance venue in the city starting August 16.

New York is the first municipality to take that action.

Government should not decide these things, says Devin Watkins, an attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“Freedom and liberty are based on the idea that people can make their own decisions on how they wish to live their own lives,” Watkins said. “We might not agree with other people’s decisions, but they have the right to make such choices if we are to live in a free society.”

Property Rights Ignored

New York’s vaccine order is unjust, says Watkins.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio is undermining the property rights of property owners in NYC and the liberty of its citizens,” Watkins said. “These businesses can require that only vaccinated people can enter if they wish, without being compelled to do so by Mayor de Blasio.

“This is about a medical drug which has not yet gone through the normal FDA validation process to ensure it is safe and effective, and yet NYC wants to require people to go through this medical procedure regardless of the risks,” Watkins said. “Although rare, some people are seriously allergic to the vaccine, and yet de Blasio thinks he knows better than they do.”


AnneMarie Schieber (amschieber@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.

This article was updated on August 12, 2021.

AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform.


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