Tyson’s Covid Vaccine Mandate Was a Risk That Paid Off

The meatpacking giant took the lead on corporate vaccination rules despite uncertainty on how employees would react.,

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“We made the decision to do the mandate, fully understanding that we were putting our business at risk,” said Donnie King, Tyson’s C.E.O.Credit…Jacob Slaton for The New York Times

Tyson’s tough choices

When Tyson Foods announced in August that it would require coronavirus vaccines for its entire work force, it was arguably the boldest corporate vaccine mandate at the time. Several companies already required vaccines for white-collar employees, but labor shortages made most reluctant to do the same for frontline workers, who were less likely to be vaccinated and most likely to be exposed to the virus.

Since Tyson announced its mandate, about 60,500 workers have gotten the shot, meaning that more than 96 percent of the company’s work force is now vaccinated. DealBook’s Lauren Hirsch went to a Tyson plant in Arkansas to hear about the lessons that Tyson’s leaders learned. Their experience is relevant for employers just getting to grips with the Biden administration’s soon-to-be-enacted rules that will mandate vaccines or weekly testing.

Taking risks can pay off. Executives rarely like to be the first to take bold actions, especially without data to support them. “We made the decision to do the mandate, fully understanding that we were putting our business at risk,” said Donnie King, Tyson’s C.E.O.

But it was also bad for business when Tyson had to shut facilities because of virus outbreaks. King began to consider a mandate in July, only a month into the job. Tyson modeled what vaccination rates it thought it could achieve and how many employees might quit. “We literally counted the cost,” King said, deciding in the end to take a calculated risk and impose the mandate.

The power of choice goes both ways. Tyson had spent six months trying to encourage employees to get vaccinated ahead of the mandate, so it knew what made them resistant to a requirement. “Part of it is, ‘I just simply don’t want you telling me what to do,” King said. “I’ve gotten a death threat posted on a bathroom wall in one of our plants.”

But several Tyson employees told DealBook that when the company removed the choice from them, it was a relief. Diana Eike, an administrative assistant at Tyson’s automation center, wasn’t planning to get the vaccine, and after Tyson announced the mandate, she was mad at first. Now, she is grateful: Tyson “took the burden off of me making the choice,” she said.

Business and society are intertwined. Tyson has been hailed by supporters of mandates, but it isn’t an obvious hero of the pandemic: The meatpacking industry has a troubled history of labor relations, and Tyson was criticized early in the pandemic for failing to adequately protect workers.

In addition to making workers safer and keeping plants open, the company’s mandate has had an effect on employees’ family members, like Eike’s son, who was persuaded to get the vaccine after his mother did. Whatever the motivations for the company’s mandate, this is noteworthy, given the low vaccination rates and high case counts in many of the places where Tyson’s plants are.

Read the full article about Tyson’s vaccine mandate by Lauren Hirsch and Michael Corkery.

More on mandates:

There are a growing number of worker rebellions against company vaccine requirements.

The Air Force met its deadline for having nearly 97 percent of its members at least partly vaccinated.

Aaron Rodgers’ suspension after testing positive for the coronavirus raises questions about whether the star N.F.L. quarterback violated the league’s vaccine policy.

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HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

Credit Suisse revamps its operations. The embattled Swiss bank reported better-than-expected earnings that were still battered by fines related to a Mozambique bond scandal. In response to another scandal, the collapse of the hedge fund Archegos, Credit Suisse said it would shrink its investment bank and mostly exit the prime brokerage business.

Moderna cuts the forecast for sales of its coronavirus vaccine. Shares in the drugmaker slid in premarket trading after the company reported a weaker-than-expected quarterly profit and reduced projections for vaccine sales. The news contrasts with Pfizer’s recent rosy forecast for its shot.

Phil Murphy ekes out a win. The Democrat narrowly won re-election as New Jersey’s governor, giving his party cause for relief. But the former Goldman Sachs executive’s vulnerability to Republican criticism of the state’s high taxes and handling of the pandemic may foreshadow trouble for Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.

The U.S. blacklists a major Israeli spyware company. The Biden administration said that NSO Group knowingly sold software to foreign governments that used it to “maliciously target” political dissidents and human rights activists. The move creates a rare rift between the U.S. and Israel, whose government must approve the export of NSO’s products.

Oil-producing countries meet amid high energy prices. The group known as OPEC+ is expected to maintain current production levels, despite calls from President Biden and others to pump more. The reason for the reluctance is that oil prices remain high, though some analysts point to building inventory as a potential concern.

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The Fed is not not expecting inflation

The Fed announced yesterday that it would, as anticipated, wind down a key part of its pandemic economic rescue effort, ending its $120 billion-a-month asset purchases by mid-2022. The central bank said that inflation was now “expected” to be transitory, rather than saying it was transitory, as in the past. Jay Powell, the Fed chair, did not say that higher interest rates, a more powerful tool to offset inflation, were imminent, although traders have increasingly made bets to that effect.

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The Fed’s stimulus appears to have worked, and tomorrow we’ll get the latest assessment of the effects when the government announces its monthly jobs report. Employers are expected to have added 450,000 workers to payrolls last month, more than double the number in September. High inflation, normally a sign that the economy is overheating, has led some to say that the Fed is removing its stimulus measures too slowly.

Other central banks are moving more quickly to combat inflation. Some expect the Bank of England to raise interest rates at its meeting today, which would follow Australia, New Zealand and Norway in taking steps to lift rates from rock-bottom levels.

The Fed seems willing to accept higher inflation. Powell said that a full recovery in jobs to prepandemic levels might take longer than previously thought, an argument for keeping rates low. In the meantime, he appears to be betting that as long as higher inflation doesn’t come as a surprise, it can continue for a while without disrupting the recovery or the market.

“Powell accomplished two key communications objectives today quite deftly,” said David Wilcox, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former senior adviser at the Fed, calling it “a lot harder than it looked.”

Seen and heard: Getting warmer

To avoid catastrophic climate change, scientists say that global warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This underlies many of the “net zero” pledges that countries and companies have made, and is the talk of the town in Glasgow, where the COP26 climate summit is underway.

Humans have warmed the planet 1.1 degrees thus far, so there is little room for maneuver. What are the chances that the rise in temperature can be limited to 1.5 degrees?

Sixty percent: John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, was relatively optimistic in Glasgow yesterday about achieving the goal, citing commitments to reduce emissions, including pledges announced at COP26.

Four percent: The 234 scientists who wrote the U.N.’s major climate science report this summer were far more pessimistic, according to a survey this week by the journal Nature. (Even worse, 60 percent said that warming would be 3 degrees or more.)

“I doubt that we’ll be able to achieve that”: Bill Gates all but dismissed the possibility yesterday on the sidelines of COP26. “There’s no comparable feat that mankind has ever achieved,” he said.

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Why vaccinating children is good for employers

Children 5 to 11 began getting coronavirus vaccine shots for the first time yesterday, shortly after the C.D.C. endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the roughly 29 million children in that age group.

“For parents all over this country, this is a day of relief,” President Biden said. It may also come as a relief to employers.

Uncertainty over child care and school closures have kept some parents from returning to work, making it even harder for many businesses to find staff. “With the unknowns of Covid, I don’t know if my kid’s going to get pulled out of school for a quarantine or school’s going to stop,” one mother told The Times this summer. About 2,500 schools are currently closed because of the coronavirus, according to a nationwide tracker by Burbio, and many child care centers remain understaffed. Some parents have also been reluctant to return to the workplace for fear of contracting the virus and exposing their unvaccinated children.

Immunizing children is expected to prevent about 600,000 new cases between now and March, and it will most likely ease, as one writer for Vogue put it, the “torturous, indefinite anxiety” of vaccinated parents with unvaccinated children. But making young children eligible for vaccines won’t solve the child care shortage or remove all risk because about a third of parents don’t plan to vaccinate their children (and those under 5 remain ineligible).

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THE SPEED READ

Deals

Shares in the sneakers brand Allbirds nearly doubled in their trading debut. (Bloomberg)

MGM Resorts plans to sell the Mirage in Las Vegas as it focuses more on sports betting and other business lines. (WSJ)

U.S. corporate borrowers are finally moving away from Libor as the interest rate benchmark. (FT)

The N.B.A. star Kevin Durant is the latest pro athlete to jump into SPACs. (Bloomberg)

Policy

Britain became the first country to approve Merck’s pill to treat Covid. (WaPo)

The S.E.C. reversed Trump-era policies that made it harder for shareholders to propose votes on environmental and social issues at annual meetings. (WSJ)

House Democrats will include a paid-leave provision in their version of the $1.85 trillion social spending bill, despite opposition from Senator Joe Manchin. (NYT)

Google is pursuing a Pentagon contract, years after employee outrage prompted it to abandon a project to provide A.I. for battlefield operations. (NYT)

Best of the rest

In a remote working world, fewer people are taking sick days. (Axios)

When bonuses aren’t enough to entice workers, companies are offering perks like coding classes and building homes for employees to buy. (WSJ)

“Earth’s Value Is Being Left Off the Balance Sheet” (Bloomberg Opinion)

Tom Hanks says Jeff Bezos invited him to go on Blue Origin’s spaceflight last month — but asked the actor to pay $28 million. (Insider)

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