- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2016

DENVER — The dispute over on-the-job prayer that led to the firing of about 150 Muslim employees at a Colorado meat-packing plant moved closer to resolution Friday after the company said workers may reapply for their positions after 30 days, instead of 180.

Still unclear is whether the workers and Cargill Meat Solutions have resolved the conflict that led to the walk-out and the subsequent mass firing at the plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado.

In a statement Friday, Cargill said the rehiring policy was changed “to allow all former employees terminated for attendance violation or job abandonment to be considered for potential rehiring 30 days after their termination date. This is a change from what previously had been a 180-day period.”

The statement also said that about 150 workers, not 190 as previously reported, were fired in keeping with the company’s policy, which says employees may be fired after missing work for three consecutive days without calling.

“This change will provide for an orderly and expeditious reapplication process for people seeking an opportunity to potentially fill vacant positions at our beef plants,” said Cargill Beef President John Keating in the statement.

The Muslim workers, most of them Somalian, were fired the week of Dec. 18 after a three-day walk-out stemming from what the they described as a policy change that made it more difficult for them to pray at work. Cargill officials said the policy had stayed the same.

“Accommodation requests are made to work area supervision and granted based on production line staffing and other factors that may vary day-to-day,” said Cargill in its Friday statement. “Although not guaranteed, and not part of the meal and break periods that are part of the plant’s union agreement with Teamsters local 455, the vast majority of religious accommodation requests are routinely granted during each of the plant’s two weekday work shifts.”

Both sides have since cited misunderstandings about the policy as the reason for the dispute.

“The terminations at Fort Morgan appear to be based on a misunderstanding, or misinformation, about a perceived change in our religious accommodation policy that did not occur,” Mr. Keating said. “Allegations that we were not going to allow prayer any longer are false.”

Jenifer Wicks, civil-rights litigation director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement Friday that the conflict over prayer has yet to be resolved.

“While we welcome the changes to the termination rehire process because our clients want to return to work and support their families, this does not resolve the prayer accommodation denial and the ambiguity of the current policy on prayer,” Ms. Wicks said.

CAIR “has been retained to represent the majority of the workers fired from the plant,” according to the statement.

In a Thursday letter to Cargill CEO David MacLennan, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said the group had participated in two telephone conferences last week with company attorneys.

“We also wish to discuss and strategize about Cargill’s religious accommodation policy, which currently requires workers at the plant to ask daily for an accommodation for prayer,” he said in the letter.

Cargill operates eight major plants in the United States and Canada and employs about 18,000 people.

“We celebrate, respect and encourage diversity in our beef business, which employs people whose origins span many different nations,” Mr. Keating said.

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