Employees at Tennessee Tyson Foods plant fight vaccine mandate

Coronavirus Vaccine

FILE – In this Jan. 29, 2006, file photo, a car passes in front of a Tyson Foods Inc., sign at Tyson headquarters in Springdale, Ark. Tyson Foods plans to administer thousands of coronavirus tests per week at its U.S. facilities under an expanded effort to protect workers and keep plants running. The Springdale, Arkansas-based company, which processes about 20% of all beef, pork and chicken in the U.S., on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, said it will randomly test employees who have no symptoms as well as those with symptoms (AP Photo/April L. Brown, File)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — Some Tyson Foods employees in West Tennessee who are not happy about the company’s new vaccine mandate protested the measure Wednesday.

Employees stood across the street from the Newbern plant with signs that said, among other things, “No Mandate.”

Picture courtesy of Tristin Garland

Earlier this month, Tyson Foods released a memo to employees across the country saying all team members would have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1.

The company said exceptions to the vaccine mandate would involve workers who seek medical or religious accommodation.

Tristin Garland snapped a picture of the protesting workers and posted it to her Facebook page.

Garland says she has two family members who work at different Tyson locations who are at risk of losing their jobs over the mandate.

“It’s been very stressful for all of us,” said Garland. “I am a nurse and have seen the good and bad due to this vaccine. And trying to decide between your beliefs, when you are so unsure, or keeping your job of 25 years has just been miserable for us.”

The COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. have been proved to be safe and effective, but reports of rare adverse events, or side effects, are frequently cited as a part of the concern among the vaccine-hesitant. 

Lee Doughten, who is a maintenance worker at the Tyson Plant in Union City, said he’s heard similar protests, and walkouts are being planned there. Doughten said he doesn’t want to get the vaccine and will likely lose his job in November.

“I wish the governor could stop it,” said Doughten. “We were once essential workers, and now we are expendable.”

Tyson Foods said it took the action to protect employers, their families, and their communities.

“The views of our team members matter to us. The head of our COVID response team as well as HR are currently on the ground, listening to concerns and answering any questions team members may have regarding available vaccines.”


Tennessee state Rep. Rusty Grills (R-Newbern), who attended the demonstration, said it’s all about personal freedoms and constitutional rights.

“I am 100% for vaccines for the health of the community, but I don’t think anyone should be forced to take something in their body against their will,” said Grills.

Grills said in the last legislative session he carried a bill that said an employer could not make conditions of employment based on the COVID-19 vaccine. He said the bill is getting a lot more attention now.

Tyson Foods said 56,000 U.S. employees, representing less than half of its domestic workforce, have been vaccinated so far.

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