“Any changes could be a problem for other workers because supervisors at the plant determine breaks within allotted times, not the workers themselves.”
OMAHA “” Meatpacking plant officials accused of discriminating against dozens of Somali Muslim workers have offered to tweak break times to help accommodate the workers”
If the dozens of Muslim workers and Swift & Co. can agree on details, a solution could defuse the dispute that started earlier this year when 120 workers at the Grand Island plant abruptly quit because they weren’t allowed to pray at sunset.
Many say they were fired, quit or were verbally and physically harassed over the issue, and some have complained to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
about the way they were treated.
In a letter to lawyers representing the workers, Swift said it could eliminate some breaktime conflicts, and offered to negotiate more scheduling flexibility with the union to allow more prayer time if the workers agreed to the proposal.
Advocates for the workers said Thursday that they were encouraged by the proposal, but said they would not accept a solution that did not accommodate the prayers
for the whole year.
“We”ll continue negotiations with the company and hopefully we”ll come out with a solution that everybody can deal with,” said Rima Kapitan, a lawyer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations who is representing the workers in the dispute. “We”re certainly
not going to accept their proposals at their face.”
The five to 10-minute prayer, known as the maghrib, must be done within a 45-minute window around sunset, according to Muslim rules. Workers at the Grand Island plant
say they quit, were fired or were verbally harassed over the issue.
But a lawyer for Swift said in a letter it would be possible to make prayer accommodations for most, but not all of the entire year. The Council on American-Islamic Relations provided a copy of the letter to The Associated Press.
“Swift concludes that it can potentially accommodate the maghrib prayer under
the existing labor agreement, except on the following dates: Feb. 15 through March 8 (commencement of Daylight Savings Time), and May 23 through Aug. 1,” Swift attorney Donald
Selzer wrote in the letter dated Aug. 20.
The company also offered to go to union representatives to negotiate lengthening the dinner break window if the workers agreed to the proposal. Lengthening the window would mean fewer days when prayers could not be accommodated, Swift said.
But the president of the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union said
Thursday that changing the breaks might not be feasible for other workers in the plant.
“I don’t know that I can agree to that because I have 1,700 other people
to worry about,” said Dan Hoppes, Local 22 union president. “I have to look and see what they”ve got in mind.”
Any changes could be a problem for other workers because supervisors at the
plant determine breaks within allotted times, not the workers themselves.
Hoppes said he wouldn’t have a problem if the company allowed individual
workers to take breaks.
“But that’s simply not the case,” Hoppes said. “That’s the problem with the
breaks is they have to be uniform.”