US firm axes Muslim workforce over prayer dispute
Nearly 200 Muslim workers have been sacked by a meat-packing plant in the US State of Colorado following a dispute over restrictions on their prayer time.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Cargill Meat Solutions facility treated 190 of its employees, mostly Somali immigrants, in a “discriminatory manner,” the Reuters reported Thursday.
Jaylani Hussein, a spokesman for CAIR, said 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.”
“All of these employees are good employees (and) don’t have any other issues,” Hussein added, explaining that the dispute was caused by the company’s “misunderstanding on policy changes” regarding workplace prayer.
Meanwhile, Mike Martin, a spokesman for Minneapolis-based Cargill, denied any changes in policy on their part, saying that since 2009 the Fort Morgan plant has designated an on-site “reflection area” for people of all faiths.
However, he said flexibility on the prayer time is subject to workflow conditions among a variety of other factors. “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.”
According to Martin, the employees were fired after staging a walkout despite being warned that failing to show up for work on three consecutive days without calling in could jeopardize their employment.
Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Human Rights Commission, said there may have been a misunderstanding on the part of Cargill managers because depending on the time of year, Muslims are required to pray at different times during the day.
Jamal said his organization has gotten in touch with Cargill to find a possible solution so that 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.
Founded in 1865, Cargill employs 155,000 people in 68 countries and is the largest privately held corporation in the United States in terms of revenue, according to its website.