Tyson is paying its truck drivers a $1,000 bonus as the coronavirus slams the meat supply chain.

But the money won’t come all at once, because keeping truck drivers on staff is crucial for Tyson right now.

A Tyson spokesperson told Business Insider that Tyson truck drivers received their initial $500 bonus in early May, and another $500 is coming in July. These bonuses were announced separately in March and April, and are part of a $120 million payout from Tyson to its 116,000 frontline workers and truck drivers. 

The spokesperson added that Tyson truck drivers have received personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. 

These truck drivers have become key in Tyson’s efforts to keep grocery stores stocked with pork, beef, and chicken. As meatpacking plants become a hotspot for new cases of the coronavirus, drivers are the key link to get whatever meat can be processed to consumers.

Trucking companies like J.B. Hunt have given their drivers cash bonuses as the coronavirus pandemic demands more from truck drivers who are moving essential medical or household supplies. In years where trucking labor was short, like 2018, trucking companies as well as retailers like Walmart lavished bonuses on truck drivers to retain them, or attract new employees.

But at Tyson, the bonuses for truck drivers speak to an essential need to keep meat moving along the supply chains.

Tyson is one of the country’s largest private fleets, with some 2,600 total trucks. As America’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, pork, and beef, Tyson depends on truck drivers to get that meat from farm to warehouse to grocery store. 

tyson truck driver

A truck turns onto a highway after leaving the Tyson Foods pork plant, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Perry, Iowa.

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

The staggered bonus might galvanize Tyson truck drivers to stay on with the company. The spokesperson from Tyson said that drivers who have to miss work due to illness or childcare will still qualify for the bonus, but they may not be eligible if they do not meet attendance standards.

Other drivers have compared the delayed bonus to a carrot-on-a-stick strategy, like the owner of the popular YouTube channel Trucking Answers.

“This feels good and they can put out a press release about it,” said Trucking Answers host Mark, who does not disclose his last name. “‘Oh, we’re giving our drivers a bonus sometime later this year. Hopefully, if they’re still around, they might get it.'”

The stakes at Tyson are high: They need these drivers to keep moving goods along. Already, certain parts of the meat supply chain are at risk. 

A Business Insider analysis revealed that at least 4,585 coronavirus cases and 18 deaths are linked to Tyson. Meat-processing plants have become a hotspot of new coronavirus cases; seven of the 10 largest clusters of coronavirus outbreaks, excluding jails and prisons, are linked to meatpacking facilities.

As a result, many of these meat-processing plants, owned by Tyson and others, are set to close in the coming weeks, with the price of fresh meat already up-ticking by 8.1% during the week of April 19, compared to the same week last year. A bank part of the Farm Credit System said in a study this month that pork and beef prices may increase by up to 20% this year.

Across all industries, truck drivers move nearly three-quarters of the nation’s freight. A situation in which truck drivers stopped working for two to three days would halt restocking in grocery stores nationwide.

And if Tyson were to see truck drivers quit because they feel unsafe or not properly compensated, that could threaten American grocery stores — and hamper yet another avenue for people to buy what they need to survive.

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