Colo. meatpackers win suit against right to pray firings

By Brian Williams
October 1, 2018

After a three-year-long fight, Muslim packinghouse workers in Fort Morgan, Colorado, won a $1.5 million settlement from Cargill Meat Solutions for civil rights violations after the company denied them the right to take prayer breaks on the job and then fired them for taking action to defend their rights.

On Dec. 21, 2015, workers walked off the job in protest after company officials told them to go home if they wanted to pray. The company then began firing them, claiming they had violated the company’s three-day “no call, no-show” policy. The fired workers were mostly from Somalia, with some from Senegal, Mali and the Mideast.

Workers told the Militant  at the time that they got solidarity from their co-workers. “I am Muslim and the guy next to me is not, Yusuf Abdi Mohamed, who had 10 years in the plant, said. “If he had to go to the bathroom I would do his job as well as mine to cover him, and when I needed to go for prayers, he would cover me.”

The settlement will be paid to 138 workers who filed complaints against Cargill, Amy Burkholder, director of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, told the media. Each worker will get about $12,000. The workers were represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Twenty workers also filed complaints against Teamsters Local 455, which organizes workers at the plant, because union officials didn’t pursue their discrimination grievances against the company. Teamsters officials agreed to pay them $153,000 as part of the settlement.

“Over the three years the dispute has played out,” reported the Denver Post  Sept. 14, “the workers have prevailed in every legal challenge.” In August 2016, the Colorado Department of Labor ruled that the fired workers were eligible for unemployment compensation because the company had fired them unfairly. Cargill filed challenges but soon abandoned this effort after losing 20 cases.

Hundreds of Somali-Americans currently work at the Fort Morgan plant, including about two dozen workers who were part of the protests. Cargill now allows them to pray at work.