Muslim workers quit Swift Nebraska plant over prayer dispute
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) Several dozen Muslim workers have quit their jobs at a Swift & Co. meatpacking plant because their prayer times werent 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 theyd go unless they could pray when they needed to, Hoppes said Tuesday.Hoppes said 94 workers had quit, but the company put the figure around 70.Sean McHugh, a spokesman for Swift at its Greeley, Colo., 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.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 didnt know the name of the company.Hoppes said the union contract contained no provisions for prayer, which for many Muslims is a minimum of five times a day.They had talked to a couple of our representatives, Hoppes said, but you cant go into the middle of the contract and renegotiate those types of things. Youve 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. … Its a real touchy subject.McHugh said Swifts 15,000 domestic work force is a diverse mix of ethnicities and religious faiths.He said Swift expects no significant setbacks from the resignations at the Grand Island plant, which has around 2,900 workers.
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