Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Prayers interrupted by work

Nearly 100 Muslim workers have quit their jobs at a Swift & Co. meatpacking plant because their prayer times weren't accommodated.

"They kind of issued the company an ultimatum," said Dan Hoppes, president of Local 22 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

"They went in before the shift started (Monday) and said that they'd go unless they could pray when they needed to," Hoppes said today.

Sean McHugh, a spokesman for Swift at its Greeley headquarters, said breaks are governed by a labor contract and all employees are told about them during orientation for all new employees.

"The company has a history of making reasonable accommodations for legitimate religious practices," he said Monday. "Swift has experienced no issues related to religious accommodations in recent years.

They have, of course, had "issues" over the employment of other immigrant groups.

Hoppes said he believes the workers, who he said were Somali immigrants, had been offered jobs at a Kansas plant that would give them time off for prayer and make other accommodations for their religion. He didn't know the name of the company. . . .

"They had talked to a couple of our representatives," Hoppes said, "but you can't go into the middle of the contract and renegotiate those types of things. You've got a lot of different nationalities at the plant, a lot of different religious beliefs." He said the company had tried to work with the Muslim workers, telling them: "'These are your break times. Can you fit it into that?'" But, Hoppes said, "If you take a hundred people out of that line you gotta shut down the line. It's a real touchy subject." McHugh said Swift's 15,000-member domestic work force is "a diverse mix of ethnicities and religious faiths." He said Swift expects no significant setbacks from the resignations.

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