Article doesn’t just how many muslims are working there.
I believe it was 500 out of 2500 employees.
The Grand Island Independent
Posted Sep 17, 2008 @ 10:51 PM
Workers including Caucasians, Hispanics, Vietnamese, and African-Americans walked out after clocking in on the B shift shortly after 3 p.m.
The objection — a change in the break schedule that leaves B shift workers shorted of hours Monday through Friday and forces them to work Saturday to earn at least 40 hours of pay.
“The Somalians say they can only work three hours after sunset, so we’re supposed to work 7.3 hours a day Monday through Friday,” said Naomi Jakubowski. “We’re supposed to come in and make up the time on Saturday or be shorted at just 36 hours.”
“I don’t want to sacrifice my Saturdays with my kids — and I can’t raise ‘em on 36 hours of pay,” she said. “I’ve got rent, food and diapers to buy.”
Dan Hoppes, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local No. 22, announced the compromise Wednesday morning.
He said the half-hour evening supper break on B shift will begin at 7:45 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. starting Wednesday and continue until the end of Ramadan on Oct. 1. The supper break will be taken en masse, he said.
The change was reached Tuesday night after negotiations between two local Swift officials, five designated Muslim leaders and three representatives of the UFCW, which represents 2,500 Swift workers, 500 of whom are Muslim.
“This will give them time to pray and satisfy their faith,” Hoppes said.
But the B shift workers counterprotesting Wednesday said besides a change in the dinner break schedule, the standard 15-minute break during the 6 o’clock hour of B shift was broken into three 5-minute-long breaks to accommodate the Somalian prayer time.
Bernadino Orellana said the Hispanic workers have staffed the Swift plant for 20 to 30 years. The Somalian workers have come in the last year and changed everything — Swift management has given in to the minority, she said.
“Nobody should have special privileges,” shouted B shift protester Tina Ramirez. “Treat everybody fairly.”
Counterprotesters raised objections Wednesday to a pay raise they say the Somalians were given and were bragging about Tuesday and Wednesday.
But “everybody is losing money” when the plant isn’t operating, said Swift Human Resources spokeswoman Mary Chmelka.
She exited on the plant’s north side, stood on the metal staircase and addressed a crowd of about 400 fabrication and trim line workers an hour after they walked off their lines.
“Go back to work get a representative of your culture to come to a meeting at 2 p.m. (Thursday),” she said as the crowd booed.
About a half hour later, Plant Manager Dennis Sydow, Operations Manager Mike Helzer and a plant owner from corporate headquarters in Greeley, Colo., stepped out to address the crowd.
More booing was heard and no workers made an effort to return to the line.
Reports were that more protesting was occurring inside on the kill and slaughter lines, but calls to the corporate office were not returned.
The counterprotesters finally broke up and marched from the Swift parking lot to Grand Island City Hall at about 6 p.m. The Muslim protesters had also staged a demonstration at Grand Island City Hall both Monday and Tuesday.
Hoppes said the compromise meeting on Tuesday came about after 500 Muslim workers walked off the job Monday in protest of not receiving prayer time during the 30-day holy period of Ramadan during the work shift.
Those workers are of Somalian and Sudanese background, he said. A similar protest occurred again Tuesday, with about 50 Muslim protesters.
The primary concern was for the evening prayer time, which signifies the end of a dawn-to-dusk fast.
Hoppes said other break times during the shift were adequate to address additional prayer times, but he said nothing of the 15-minute break being divided into three smaller break times.
Swift supervisors were to apologize to Muslim workers who were accused of taking too long on those breaks, which some had used for prayer, Hoppes said. An accounting of the break time taken was conducted and Hoppes said the company and union found no violations.
Hoppes said Muslim workers who did not show up for work, walked out of work, or did not notify supervisors of not coming to work will have a disciplinary letter placed in their personnel file.
“They will not be fired, but if it happens again they could be terminated,” Hoppes said Wednesday.
The disciplinary letter was viewed by those protesting Wednesday as too light of a punishment.
“If we did that, we’d be fired,” said Ramirez.
Hoppes said the union is continuing to investigate allegations that some praying workers were kicked by a supervisor and that a male supervisor followed a female worker into a bathroom as she attempted to pray. He said witnesses to those events have not surfaced and Swift is denying either incident happened.
Ramirez said Wednesday that the Somalians come late, leave early and take frequent breaks and “drop all the time” in prayer right in front of people, so people are literally tripping over their bodies.
“They don’t do the work and we have to work double,” she said. “It’s not fair.”
Hoppes had heard the rumors of a counterprotest early Wednesday, but hoped it wouldn’t happen.
“I don’t think there will be any problems, but there’s always some people who aren’t completely satisfied and there may be a glitch or two,” Hoppes said. “Really, the only change is the supper break going from 8 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.”
B shift workers said the plant has been hampered by the protests this week. Normally, about 400 head of cattle are processed every hour, but that was down to about 220 to 260 an hour this week.
“Everyone has rights. Be equal. Be fair,” a protester sign stated in the Swift parking lot Wednesday night.
“We all have religion,” Ramirez said.