Another Viewpoint: Tyson is committed to the health, safety of its Portland workforce

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Never before has the importance of people working in the food supply chain been more apparent than it is today, nor has it been more important to value their work and ensure their health and safety.

My father, Gus Barber, founded Barber Foods in 1955. The son of immigrants who started their lives in the U.S. with nothing, my father wanted to make sure that workers who joined the Barber Foods family not only helped his company get food onto people’s plates, but also were helped by the company.

My father ensured good wages, good benefits, and onsite classes like English as a second language. Now owned by Tyson Foods, the company’s commitment to its employees and to strengthening our local community remains. 

With the onset of COVID-19, the nation has been sailing in uncharted waters. Since Barber Foods is a food-processing facility, the plant environment has always followed strict sanitary procedures. The frequency increased as awareness of community transmission possibilities of COVID-19 grew.

To keep our essential team members safe, Tyson has instituted new measures that go beyond our longstanding sanitation processes and are aimed at keeping our team members healthy and safe. Team member temperatures are checked daily and protective facial coverings are required. Plants have been modified for social distancing, including workstation dividers and barriers in breakrooms. Sanitation has been increased for frequently touched surfaces, such as doors and tables. Increased hand-washing frequency has been encouraged. We also encourage team members to follow CDC guidelines at home as well as at work.

In March, Tyson relaxed its attendance policy to encourage people to stay home if they are sick. Team members already have health-care coverage, but we waived co-pay, co-insurance, and deductibles for doctor visits for COVID-19 testing and eliminated preapproval or preauthorization steps. Co-pays for the use of telemedicine are also waived, and refill limits for 30-day prescriptions of maintenance medication have been relaxed.

In addition, changes were made to our short-term disability program so that ill employees can receive 90 percent of their pay if out for more than the available sick leave days, preserving Maine’s unemployment benefits for those working at companies unable to offer short term disability. 

We also realize that our employees are essential workers during this global health pandemic and deserve recognition. Tyson is sending $120 million in “thank-you bonuses” for 116,000 U.S. frontline workers and truckers. These first $500 individual bonuses will be paid in early May and the second in July. People are doing the extraordinary and the company is rewarding that effort.

As we navigate this pandemic, we can all learn from each other. We want to hear from team members if they have any concerns about their work conditions, or about our methods of communicating any changes we have made or will make as we learn more about COVID-19 and adjust to this new reality. 

My father wanted to lift team members up as they performed the essential work of getting food to people’s tables. Tyson is committed to continuing that tradition.

David Barber is a business development specialist for Tyson Foods in Portland and the former president and chief executive officer of Barber Foods.