- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2015

DENVER — Nearly 200 Muslim workers have been fired from their jobs at a Colorado meat-packing plant after walking out in a dispute over accommodating prayer in the workplace.

The company, Cargill Meat Solutions, fired about 190 workers after they staged a walkout earlier this month after they say they were told to pray at home instead of being allowed to pray in a specially designated room at the plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado.

Company officials and representatives for the workers, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said they continue to engage in negotiations.

The dispute appears to center on the time of day at which workers are able to pray, which changes according to the season in the Muslim faith.

In a statement to 9News in Denver, Cargill said that its policy on accommodating prayer in the workplace had not changed.

“In the Fort Morgan plant, a reflection area for use by all employees to pray was established in April 2009, and is available during work shifts based on our ability to adequately staff a given work area,” said the statement.

“While reasonable efforts are made to accommodate employees, accommodation is not guaranteed every day and is dependent on a number of factors that can, and do, change from day to day. This has been clearly communicated to all employees. Cargill makes every reasonable attempt to provide religious accommodation to all employees based on our ability to do so without disruption to our beef processing business at Fort Morgan,” the statement said.

At a press conference Wednesday in Denver, Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR-Minnesota, said that the families “are only asking for a simple request to pray which they have been granted for a long period of time.”

He said the dispute was the result of a “misunderstanding on policy changes.”

“All of these employees are good employees. They don’t have any other issues,” Mr. Hussein said in a video posted on YouTube.

Cargill said in its statement that the workers were fired only after “multiple attempts were made to discuss the situation with local Somali employees without a successful resolution, including a Tuesday meeting at the plant management’s request.”

“Plant management and union representatives met with Somali leaders without resolution,” the statement said. “Based on company policy, employees who do not show up for work, or call in, for three consecutive days were are risk for termination of their employment. Efforts were made to communicate to employees who did not show up for work to ensure they understood their jobs would be at jeopardy.”

Based in Wichita, Kansas, Cargill has 155,000 employees in 68 countries, according to a company fact sheet.

Jessica Chasmar reported from Washington, D.C.

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