Denver Post: Muslims, Neb. Plant Agree but Fired Greeley Workers Face Hurdle in Prayer Dispute

An agreement between Muslim workers and a Nebraska meatpacking plant reached late Tuesday could be an outline for an accord in a similar dispute in Greeley, people involved in the discussions say.

But a major hurdle in any agreement over Muslim prayer times will be whether 103 workers who were fired for walking away from the JBS Swift & Co. slaughterhouse in Greeley are rehired, said Christina Abraham, civil-rights director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago.

“We think it may help come to a settlement in Greeley, but there is still the issue of the workers who were fired there,” Abraham said.

The settlement between Muslim workers and Swift at the company’s Grand Island, Neb., plant contains a compromise that moves up the daily midshift meal break by 15 minutes to 7:45 p.m.

The deal might work in Grand Island, where sundown Wednesday was at 7:38 p.m., but sundown came earlier in Greeley — at 7:03 p.m. — leaving workers with more than four hours remaining on their shift if they were to break at that time.

Muslim workers are demanding time to pray at sundown, the end of a dawn-to-dusk fast, a requirement of Islam during the holy month of Ramadan, which this year began Sept. 1. About 500 workers in Grand Island walked off the job Monday in protest over break times. None was fired.

That walkout came days after more than 300 Greeley workers stormed off the job when told they could not break for the day’s final prayer. The firings occurred Sept. 9, when workers refused to return to the production line.

Swift officials, who did not return calls seeking comment, said workers violated the terms of a contract they have with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7.

The Greeley plant offered Muslim workers a 30-minute meal break at 8 p.m. rather than the usual break at 9:15 p.m., and the workers refused, saying it was too long after sundown.

Union and CAIR officials met Wednesday with the fired workers to discuss legal options, which range from union grievances to lawsuits.

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