A Kansas-based meat distribution company has reportedly fired around 190 workers from one of its packaging and distribution plants, weeks after more than 200 workers walked off of the job over a prayer dispute, the Denver Post reported.
Cargill Meat Solutions made the decision to fire employees — individuals who are mostly Muslim immigrants from Somalia — after the workers refused to show up to work at a Fort Morgan, Colorado, plant last month, claiming that they were denied breaks to pray.
They felt as though a long-held prayer policy had changed, so they decided not to show up to work for three days following a Dec. 18 dispute, which led to their firing, according to KSAX-TV.
Some workers later returned, but the majority stayed away as representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group, stepped in to try and help the workers get their jobs back.
Jaylani Hussein, a spokesman and executive director of CAIR’s Minnesota office, told the Denver Post that Muslim workers have traditionally been permitted to pray for 5 to 10 minute blocks — with Cargill even providing a prayer room at the plant.
“Some employees missed their prayer that day,” Jaylani Hussein, a spokesman and executive director of CAIR’s Minnesota office, told KSAX-TV. “The workers were told: ‘If you want to pray, go home.”
Hussein continued, “We believe Cargill is a great organization and that they have a long history of employing Muslims. Unfortunately, in this plant, it seem there have been some abuse and some sort of policy that has been applied in so many different ways.”
Cargill responded to the firing by saying that the company “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.”
But the meat-packing plant said that accommodations cannot be guaranteed every day and are dependent on a number of factors that can change from day-to-day, with a statement from the company going on to say that reflection rooms are available for prayer and that no policies have changed.
Cargill explains how employees need to work more at the plant than they pray and those working the assembly line can’t all go on break at once because the assembly line has to keep operating — which is what they were doing: all going for prayer together.
CAIR will be speaking with Cargill next week in an effort to try and help the workers get their jobs back, and secure their requested prayer time.
Cargill said that multiple attempts had already been made to resolve the situation with the employees — including meetings with plant management and union representatives.