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Between 70 and 100 Swift & Co. workers quit their jobs at a meatpacking plant in Grand Island, Neb., over issues involving prayer times.
The workers, according to Swift, are Somali Muslims. Most of them were hired following immigration-related raids at the plant in December, according to union officials.
The workers told the company and the union that their prayer times weren’t being accommodated.
At unionized Swift plants, workers receive one 15-minute paid break and one 30-minute unpaid break during each eight-hour shift, said Swift spokesman Sean McHugh.
It’s unclear what kind of additional breaks the workers requested, as those involved could not be reached Tuesday.
But according to Ammar Amonette, imam of the Colorado Muslim Society in Denver, Muslims observe five prayer times each day, at dawn, noon, midafternoon, sunset and nighttime. The prayers last about 10 minutes. There’s also a special prayer ritual observed on Fridays at noon, which is of particular importance to Muslim men.
“It is a routine thing in the community that employees request prayer time and to attend Friday services,” he said. “Employers have to provide a reasonable right of accommodation and that is not detrimental to the operation of the business. Normally, Muslim workers pray their prayers on their break.”
It’s unclear if all the Muslim workers at the plant wanted to pray at the same time. Dan Hoppes, president of the local United Food Workers and Commercial Workers of America union representing the Grand Island Swift employees, said the affected workers asked managers for a prayer break at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. that would adversely affect production.
Amonette said workers would have a window of time to complete the noon and midafternoon prayers, so they wouldn’t have to leave the factory line all at once. “It would be unreasonable for them to pray all together,” he said.
Email Kimberly S. Johnson at email@example.com.
(Posted on May 16, 2007)