When companies all across the globe were giving their employees end-of-the-year bonuses and increments, a meat packing plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado,susprised its Muslim workers with possibly the worst New Year present imaginable.
Cargill Meat Solutions has fired about 190 of its Muslim employees, most of them immigrants from Somalia, over a dispute regarding workplace prayer facilities. As The Denver Post reports, hundreds of workers staged a walk out nearly 10 days ago after the Minnesota-based company changed its prayer policies.
Although some employees later returned to their job, majority stayed out as representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) attempted to negotiate with the company on their behalf.
Jaylani Hussein, a representative and executive director of CAIR, said that some of the fired employees had been working at the company for nearly 10 years. Apparently, Cargill previously allowed Muslim employees to pray at the plant and even provided a prayer room for them.
However, the employers recently made some changes to its long-running practice and reportedly told the workers, “If you want to pray, go home.”
The employees used to pray at different times of the day in about five-to-10 minute blocks and usually used time out of their unpaid break periods. They tried to change plant managers’ decision about the prayer schedule by walking off the job, but the entire thing backfired massively.
“It's disappointing,” Hussein told the Post. “They feel missing their prayer is worse than losing their job. It's like losing a blessing from God.”
Meanwhile, the company said that its policy on accommodating prayer in the workplace had not changed.
“In the Fort Morgan plant, a reflection area for use by all employees to pray was established in April 2009, and is available during work shifts based on our ability to adequately staff a given work area,” the company said in a statement. “While reasonable efforts are made to accommodate employees, accommodation is not guaranteed every day and is dependent on a number of factors that can, and do, change from day to day. This has been clearly communicated to all employees. Cargill makes every reasonable attempt to provide religious accommodation to all employees based on our ability to do so without disruption to our beef processing business at Fort Morgan.”
Most of the fired employees were sole earners for their families. Since the company has a policy that states any employees, who are fired, cannot reapply for a job for at least six months these people would not be getting their old jobs back any time soon.
Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Human Rights Commission, said the plant managers may have misunderstood the fact that Muslims are required to pray at different times during the day depending on the season. He also said that his organization has contacted Cargill to see if they can resolve this issue.
“Hopefully, there can be a clear policy in place that everyone understands that would solve the problem,” he explained.
It is unclear if it was really a misunderstanding on the company’s part or something more ominous, but one thing is for certain: nearly 200 families will suffer because of it.