FIRED CARGILL WORKERS MAY CATCH A BREAK
Employees in Fort Morgan fired over a prayer dispute can ask to be rehired sooner.
Cargill will allow workers who lost their jobs in a prayer dispute in December to reapply for their positions this month.
Somali workers fired by Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan during a workplace prayer dispute in December will be able to reapply for jobs at the beef plant this month, should they want to come back.
Wichita- based Cargill Inc. said Friday that changes to company policy will allow any employee terminated for attendance violations or job abandonment to reapply 30 days after his or her termination date.
Previously, former employees had towait six months before they could reapply.
“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,” Cargill Beef president John Keating said.
Cargill fired about 150 secondshift employees Dec. 23 for violating the company’s attendance policy after they failed to call in or show up forwork for three consecutive days.
The fired workers, most of whom were immigrants from Somalia, had been protesting what they thought were changes to time allowed for Muslim prayer.
The Council on American- Islamic Relations, which represented more than 100 of the fired employees, said Friday their clients “want to return to work and support their families.”
“We hope this means that Cargill will continue to consider changes to other policies, particularly the policy on prayer accommodation,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR Minnesota and a spokesman for the group. “There has been a pattern of hostility to their daily requests for prayer accommodations.”
The employee protest began Dec. 21, according to CAIR, after an incident Dec. 18 in which a group of “workers were told: ‘ If you want to pray, go home.’ ”
Cargill, however, said while not guaranteed, the “vast majority of religious accommodation requests are routinely granted” during the plant’s two weekday work shifts.
“Allegations that we were not going to allow prayer any longer are false,” Keating said.
Since 2009, the Fort Morgan plant has provided a “reflection room” where Muslim workers are allowed to pray.
Initial reports from Cargill put the number of fired employees at 190, but the company said Friday the final count is closer to 150.
“Several dozen” people included in the initial figure were actually out with an ex- cused absence, spokesman Michael Martin said.
The plant has already filled 30 secondshift openings. Workers earn $ 14 per hour and up and are represented by a union, Teamsters Local 455.
Howmany jobs will still be available in late January is unknown, Martin said.
“In a 2,100- employee beef processing plant, there are always some number of openings,” he said. “In the course of a year, there’s a substantial amount of turnover simply because the type of work is demanding.”
A sign announces job openings at the Cargill plant in FortMorgan, where about 150 employees were fired. Stephanie Alderton, Fort Morgan Times