It was late April when food supply behemoth Tyson Foods took out a full-page newspaper ad in which chairman John Tyson decried pandemic-related business closures. “Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America,” he wrote. “This is a delicate balance because Tyson Foods places team member safety as our top priority.” Thankfully, after much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, the good folks at Tyson have figured out how to keep people safe: by reinstating their punitive pre-pandemic policy that punishes workers who don’t show up for their shift.
There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, as reported by Bloomberg News (this non-firewalled Baltimore Sun version is from those same writers), Tyson has stated that employees who miss work due to COVID-19 will not be penalized, and “they will also continue to qualify for short-term disability pay so they can continue to be paid while they’re sick.” And that phrasing is quite telling and specific, because Tyson doesn’t offer its employees paid sick leave—it only makes them eligible for disability payments, which covers up to 60% of an employee’s pay when they’re out with COVID.
Secondly, Tyson is in the midst of yet another COVID outbreak. On June 2, the company confirmed that 591 of 2,303 tested employees at its plant in in Storm Lake, Iowa have tested positive for COVID-19. This is significant not just because the pandemic isn’t over, but because conditions at Tyson plants make social distancing effectively impossible. And given that it’s still difficult to get tested, and that some COVID tests have proven to be unreliable, forcing people who feel sick to come into work is a recipe for a continued outbreak.
But really, even putting aside the shortsightedness of risking perpetuated illness among the company’s workforce, it’s just inhumane. Having a sick leave policy that punishes people without considering individual circumstances puts a terrible burden on employees and signals that Tyson doesn’t actually care about the well-being of the people who work for it. It also makes Tyson’s current George Floyd–related diversity campaign seem awfully hollow.
If Tyson can’t have a better sick leave policy during a pandemic, why should the company’s statements about committing to team members be taken as anything more than lip service?