Somali Muslim migrants lose factory jobs in prayer dispute

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Some of the fired workers from a meat packing plant in Colorado meet with their translator. Photo by Chris Hansen/9NEWS courtesy of USA Today Network.

Some of the fired workers from a meat packing plant in Colorado meet with their translator. Photo by Chris Hansen/9NEWS courtesy of USA Today Network.

Some of the fired workers from a meat packing plant in Colorado meet with their translator. Photo by Chris Hansen/9NEWS courtesy of USA Today Network.

Some of the fired workers from a meat packing plant in Colorado meet with their translator. Photo by Chris Hansen/9NEWS courtesy of USA Today Network.

DENVER (Reuters) – Nearly 200 workers, mostly Somali immigrants, have been fired from a meat-packing plant in Colorado after staging a walkout to protest what they said were insufficient prayer accommodations, the company and Islamic advocacy groups said on Thursday.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the workers were treated in a “discriminatory manner” by managers at the Cargill Meat Solutions facility in Fort Morgan, about 75 miles northeast of Denver.

Jaylani Hussein, a spokesman for CAIR, said in a YouTube video posted by the group that the workers objected to new restrictions on their ability to worship on the job, “which they had been granted for a long period of time.”


READ: Americans prize religious freedom for Christians — less for Muslims or atheists


“All of these employees are good employees (and) don’t have any other issues,” Hussein said, adding that the dispute stemmed from a “misunderstanding on policy changes” by Cargill regarding workplace prayer.

Mike Martin, a spokesman for Minneapolis-based Cargill, disputed assertions the company had changed its policy, noting that since 2009 the Fort Morgan plant has set aside an on-site “reflection area” for people of all faiths.

“Cargill makes every reasonable attempt to provide religious accommodations to all employees based on our ability to do so without disruption to our beef-processing business,” he said. He said the degree of flexibility the company can extend for prayers depends on a variety of factors, including daily work-flow considerations.

Martin said about 200 workers walked off the job last week and were warned that failing to show up for work on three consecutive days without calling in could jeopardize their employment.

Plant managers met with the workers, members of the Somali community and Teamsters union leaders who represent nearly 2,000 hourly workers at the plant but were unable to resolve the issue, he said.


READ: 3 reasons Christians should back religious freedom for all (COMMENTARY)


After 190 workers failed to show up without notice for three days straight, “termination procedures were initiated” and those workers were dismissed, Martin said.

Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Human Rights Commission, said Cargill managers may not have understood that depending on the time of year Muslims are required to pray at different times during the day.

Jamal said his organization has contacted Cargill to see if the workers can get their jobs back.

“Hopefully, there can be a clear policy in place that everyone understands that would solve the problem,” he said.

Cargill employs 155,000 people in 68 countries, according to the company’s website.

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  • Jim Schmitt

    Re-hire these workers immediately. It costs far more to train new employees. Respect religious needs. Satisfied, happy workers, INCLUDING MUSLIMS, will work more efficiently and produce a better product. And send these responsible managers back to school to learn to be effective managers. Power hungry “Les Nesman” type managers are never successful.

  • Est

    My understanding is that if large groups of people want to take a break to pray at the same time, it can compromise or shut down the production line. The financial ramifications of shutting down the line might have been too much for the company to bear. Asking other employees to try to compensate may have been deemed inconsiderate or even dangerous.

  • Reese

    A job requires an action or series of actions necessary to fulfill the purpose of the job. A job is offered by an individual or group who is in need of an individual or individuals who are able and willing to do the job. If there are sufficient numbers of individuals to do the job offered, then the job is fulfilled. If there are insufficient numbers of individuals to do the job, then the offering individual or group redefines the job so that there might be sufficient numbers of individuals to do the job.

    This offering of a job is a consequence of the right to the property of ideas, opinion, and conscience, which is a fundamental aspect of human freedom, and such ideas, opinions, and consciences live or die in the marketplace of human dignity.

  • Rosie

    I am undecided where I stand on this issue but there is supposed to be a separation of church and state. As a former care aid in many geriatric facilities for over 16 years I understand you cannot pick and choose when you will work. You follow the schedule and deal with it. Although I am not a member of any organized religion any more I dealt with the holy days of obligation over the years while a practicing catholic. You cannot pull a stunt like not showing up for 3 days and expect to still have your job. I don’t begin to pretend to understand the Muslim faith but factories cannot just shut down like these Somalies want them to do. There has to be a way for them to alter their beliefs. And continue to work as they are supposed to. Can they not spend their so called time when obligated to pray in silent prayer and continue to work? They need to bend also.

  • JIm

    When you take a job, you agree to work on the job’s terms. You don’t get to change them after the fact unless you can negotiate a change. Forcing an unreasonable accommodation on an employer isn’t as simple as exercising your civil rights. Other employees are going to be asked to work so that you can be accommodated, or in this case the entire plant will have to shut down. Workers do of course have the right to strike, but they also have a labor contract that’s been negotiated through their union. In this case, the workers appear to have conducted a wildcat strike, ie a strike without union authorization, consequently their termination by the company is completely justified.

  • Muslims are required to pray 5 times a day at specific times FACING TOWARD MECCA.

    Safety may have been a factor. If not, shame on Cargill.
    Employers must make reasonable accommodations for religious freedom. But sometimes it is impossible.

    1) A Muslim surgeon cannot leave the operating table to go and pray.
    2) A Muslim pilot cannot leave the cockpit to go and pray.
    3) A Muslim soldier cannot leave an active battlefield to go and pray.
    4) A Muslim lifeguard cannot leave the pool side to go and pray.
    5) A Muslim policeman cannot abandon an active public threat to go and pray.

    Think about what a nuisance religion is to these poor Muslims indoctrinated into this regimen if there is no Allah listening.
    Nonetheless, if a religious practice endangers people that is where the line is drawn in American law. And meat packing is extremely dangerous work.

  • JIm

    This is much simpler. You have union workers who have walked off their job in an unauthorized strike. Therefore, they are justifiably and contractually subject to termination.

  • JIm

    The first wave of enforcing Sharia law on the US. Sharia law should not trump union contracts.

  • Monique

    It has always amazed me that people want to be accommodated by established systems. It’s like joining a gym and trying to turn it into a gun club. If you don’t like the way it’s done, go do your own thing somewhere else. Unless there is some kind of abuse or illegal activity, you are not in a position to make demands regarding how a company wants you to perform your job. When you get hired, you agree to the working conditions and hours. It also amazes me how immigrants and refugees from third world countries learn quickly to make demands that would not be tolerated in their own countries.

  • abdul

    I am Muslim but I think they company was fair to allow them pray time but if they think that they have to pray right at time is not accurate they can pray when they are off work. you cannot keep pushing for what you want you have to understand if you go to Muslim country you have to obey the rules so why it is different for them here. I think those people are hard worker but they have to understand that the company need to make money and cannot just allow them to pray anytime they want it to pray, they can pray at lunch time and the rest can be done at their own home and that is more than fair.

  • Eric

    “It has always amazed me that people want to be accommodated by established systems.”

    Yes, because “established systems” are far more important than the people who run them. I find your unquestioned submission to authority disturbing.

    “It also amazes me how immigrants and refugees from third world countries learn quickly to make demands that would not be tolerated in their own countries.”

    That’s because we are *not* a “third world country.” Yet. Despite the efforts of the corporate master class and petty nihilists who support them. Like you. You do know we are a democracy, right? That our nation was created to be different than the tyrannies that *don’t* tolerate differences? That liberty and equality means treating people as people, and not as mere cogs in a machine, right? In the name of all that is holy, I can’t believe I’m reading what you wrote.

  • Ben in oakland

    We’re religious. We demand special rights that other people don’t have because you have to accommodate our religious beliefs and practices. Whether it is Kim Davis, the falsely named first amendment protection acts, “ours is a Christian nation” Fanatics, or these Muslim workers, it never, ever ends.

  • larry

    These workers had a union to negotiate potential disputes like this. The company appears to have been willing to make reasonable accommodations. There was more than ample opportunity to resolve the matter in a way to keep the plant going and workers satisfied.

    Considering many factory workers do not have such conditions working their favor, the ones here come off as whiny and deluded. Even if the workers institute a class action suit against Cargil, it has little chance of success. They had the means of negotiation with management and did not go through them. Ignoring Jim’s ignorant comments about Sharia law, he has a valid point here here.

  • Larry

    You mischaracterize the situation here. The “established system” here created by the give and take between management and a particularly powerful union. These workers had a lot more avenues for dispute resolution than most. Cargil appears to have been willing to make accommodations, where possible.

    If they were”right to work” employees, people with no collective bargaining power, then you might have a point here. But I am not seeing that in this story.

  • Neon Genesis

    I support these Muslims’ rights to get their job back but I’m curious why they were working at a meat plant? I thought bacon was a sin in Islam?

  • Wow,Atheist Max…I’m really proud of you on this one,my friend.Instead of your usual polemics,you took the time to say something both positive AND sensible.Are you going to be a more fair Atheist Max in 2016? (LOL :^)–[ I won’t hold my breath for THAT! ]—Happy New Year,Max!–May the God you don’t believe in bless you richly!

  • Garson Abuita

    I don’t think these plants handle pork, just beef and turkey. The really ironic thing about all of this is that Cargill recently developed a halal vegetable-based alternative to pork fat for use in turkey sausage and hot dogs.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    There’s all kinds of meat, you know. Pork prohibition is a tradition which exists because it’s a tradition, just like the Jewish prohibition on shellfish and right-wing Christians’ fear of LGBTs. It’s funny how many Islamophobes zero in on that particular aspect as if it means something. In “Fiddler on the Roof,” the Jewish paterfamilias Tevye explained we do these things to remind us who we are, and tat’s it. I would think those Muslim fellers working in that plant are capable of deciding if it’s compatible with their vision of their faith’s requirement rather than the type of loudmouths who think keeping pigs is a yard next to a mosque is hilarious. Such people are just bullies with few outlets and too much time on their hands. A comment like this reveals much more about the commenter than about the topic.

  • Ferd

    Every job I ever had, I had to bend to the employers will. Labor laws have been created to make employer requests reasonable and to provide a safe work environment. The U.S. has bent over backwards to accommodate foreigners. Here in California, our voter pamphlet guides are printed in 8 languages, etc. Any (religious or other) activity that takes workers offline en masse at regular intervals shouldn’t be tolerated. I side with the employer.