The legal representative for approximately 150 Muslim workers who were fired from a meat packing facility was adamant Monday that the group simply wants to return to work.
The workers, the majority of whom are Somali, were dismissed from a facility in Fort Morgan, Colorado, after more than 200 participated in a walkout to protest what they say is a change to the company’s workplace prayer policy.
“They’re requesting to get their jobs back and to go back to what they understood to be the policy,” Jaylani Hussein, the Minnesota executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is representing the workers.
The exact circumstances surrounding the initial dispute remain murky. Cargill Meat Solutions says the employees had requested group prayers that would have hindered workflow while Hussein says no such appeal was made.
“They’re just trying to spin the story so they seem more favorable,” Hussein told Anadolu Agency.
Cargill maintains that there has been no change to company policy regarding prayer, and said in a statement that the row stems from a “misunderstanding” that took root in the Somali community “indicating Cargill was ending prayer entirely due to a policy change”.
“Cargill takes our commitment to employees seriously and this has been an unfortunate situation,” Michael Martin, a Cargill spokesman, said in a statement to AA. “At no time did Cargill prevent employees from prayer at Fort Morgan, nor have we changed policies related to religious accommodation and attendance.”
Praying five times a day is obligatory for observant Muslims.
The company has provided its employees with a “reflection area” since 2009, and the room is “is available during work shifts based on our ability to adequately staff a given work area”, according to Martin.
The employees were fired after they failed to call in or show up for work for three consecutive days during their protest.
That policy is mere window-dressing, Hussein said.
“The no call, no show policy is just a blatant way of getting rid of all these employees,” he said.
Teamster union local 455 that represents the workers has not assisted in the ongoing dispute, which compounds the issue, according to Hussein.
“We’ve got a union that doesn’t want to talk to us, and we’ve got Cargill that seems to not know how its policy is being implemented at its plant,” he said.
CAIR plans to continue meetings with Cargill throughout the week to find a solution to the dispute.