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US workers claim Ramadan observance led to wrongful terminations

[JURIST] Muslim union workers at the JBS Swift & Co. [company website] meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado have filed grievances and wrongful termination claims stemming from alleged employment conflicts with their observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan [Beliefnet.com backgrounder]. Initially there were attempts to work out a deal [Greely Tribune report] with Swift that would allow night shift workers to take a meal break before 9 pm to accommodate their fasting from sunrise to sunset. On September 5, when requests for a break at sunset were denied, approximately 220 workers coming mostly from Somalia [JURIST news archive] and other African nations staged a walk-out in protest. All of the protesters were suspended and a large percentage were later fired. According to an official from Swift, the number of workers fired was 101, but a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 [official website] said the number was closer to 150. Attorneys for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [official website] have become involved as mediators in the dispute. AP has more. CBS4 Denver has local coverage.

In 2007, Swift dealt with a similar issue at a meat-packing plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, where approximately 120 workers abruptly quit [AP report] after they were denied the opportunity to pray at sunset. Workers at that plant had said they were verbally and physically harassed, which led some to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website], raising provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text; EEOC backgrounder] prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. The dispute in Colorado follows a situation at a Tyson Foods [corporate website] plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee, where last month the company agreed [The Tennessean report] to give workers the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr as a paid day off instead of Labor Day.

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