Somali Workers Lose Jobs after Unlawful Strike over On-The-Job Prayer Time Dispute

Of the approximately 2,000 employees at Cargill Meat Solutions, Inc.’s Fort Morgan plant, 600 are Somali. Nearly 200 Somalis walked off the job in protest that they were deprived of on-the-job prayer time. This is a Teamster facility, and the Somalis were terminated for violating the no-strike clause of their collective bargaining agreement. The Union is seeking reinstatement of the workers (probably with back pay), while the Company does not want to give the appearance that the strike was successful thus implicitly encouraging copycat acts to occur in the future. But, what makes this an unusually interesting case is the religious discrimination element.

Religious discrimination claims are on a sharp increase and will continue to be a focal point of many government agencies like the EEOC and NLRB. Here, the Somalis may have been asking for more than “religious freedom,” and insisting on preferential treatment. According to the Company, the Somalis were provided adequate time away from their jobs to pray, but the demands of the workplace took precedent. All facility employees, including the Somalis, were given unpaid lunch breaks, which meant they could use that time to pray, as well.

This case is in its delicate infancy, so I don’t have many facts, an opinion, or result, yet. But, with the focus that the federal government is putting on thwarting religious discrimination, I anticipate this case will become mainstream in the near future.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.

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