DENVER – Tensions have risen between Somali workers and officials at the JBS Swift and Co. plant in Greeley, Colo. over when employees can break for prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The conflict reportedly began on Sept. 5, when about 220 workers, according to Swift estimates, walked out during the evening shift, blaming the company's refusal to allow their breaks to coincide with sunset so they could pray.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the sunset prayer is the only one of the daily prayers that can’t be changed. CAIR has been trying to mediate the dispute.

Swift spokeswoman Tamara Smid reportedly said 101 workers were fired, but United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 spokesman Manny Gonzales said the number was as high as 150, based on what workers told union officials.

Gonzales said the union plans to file grievances against the company on behalf of those workers.

The dispute is the latest interaction between processors and the growing U.S. Muslim community. Last month, Tyson Foods Inc. reached a compromise with its Shelbyville, Tenn. workers on having Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, as a paid day off. Gold'n Plump Poultry Inc. reportedly agreed on Sept. 5 to let Muslim workers take short prayer breaks under a settlement mediated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


Source: Associated Press