Yesterday, we investigated the failure of Nebraska’s fiftieth out of fifty Safe Haven law to protect teenagers from dumping by misbegotten parents. Today, we learn about another Midwestern mudfest flinging scorn and rage against Somali Muslims who wish to say evening prayers during work hours at a Grand Island, Nebraska meatpacking plant. So far 86 people have been fired in this face off between commerce and religion.
Nebraska is curdling under the weight of a lack of a native work force, and the “foreign imports” bring their own beliefs and value systems to the high prairies and the low plains:
On Monday, hundreds of Muslim employees walked off the job, saying they weren’t being allowed to take a break to pray during Ramadan. Break times were then altered on the second shift so that Muslim employees could make their fourth of five daily prayers at sunset.
Then hundreds of non-Muslim workers walked off the job in counterprotests Wednesday and Thursday. Later Thursday, plant managers did an about-face, saying the new break times weren’t working.
Should Muslim meatpacking workers be allowed to pray five times a day as required by their religion?
What if Christian workers wanted to break out in song five times a day while working the line?
Can we ever allow religion to break the back of business or must businesses bend with tradition and serve the closely held beliefs of its workforce?
If people choose to take five prayer breaks a day instead of grabbing five smoking breaks a day — should that matter? Or is the spirit of the break what matters most to the employer?
Grand Island isn’t the only city dealing with Muslim morality in the workplace:
• In Greeley, 220 workers walked off the job early this month, saying they weren’t being allowed to pray just after sunset. More than 100 were later fired.
• Chicken processor Gold’n Plump Inc. recently settled a lawsuit with nine Muslim employees of its Cold Spring, Minn., plant. The workers said they were required to handle pork, against their religious teachings, and that the company did not accommodate their prayer schedule.
• An uproar in Shelbyville, Tenn., went national in August after a Tyson Foods chicken plant and a labor union agreed to replace Labor Day as a paid holiday with a Muslim holiday.
A majority of the plant’s 1,200 workers — including 700 Muslims, 250 of them Somalis — wanted the contract change. The plant later reinstated Labor Day as a paid holiday and allowed a personal day to be used for Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.
• At Mission Foods in New Brighton, Minn., six Somali Muslim women were dismissed from a tortilla factory in August for refusing to wear required uniforms. The women said the pants and shirts were immodest and a violation of their religion.
Complaints of religion-based employment discrimination are on the rise. The total number, from people of all religions, grew from 3,124 in 1997 to 4,489 in 2007, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Complaints from Muslim workers more than doubled in that decade, from 389 to 909.
Somali Muslims aren’t the only workers having trouble digging their living values in dry soil.
Iowa has its own meatpacking problems as a recent immigration raid — the largest raid in the history of our nation — held 700 warrants that ended in the arrest of 400 “undocumented” workers charged with identity theft.
Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the nation, lost 75% of its workforce in that raid — as well as 10% of the population of Potsville, Iowa — and three shifts a day were cut down to one.
Potsville is still trying to recover from the financial bombing of their biggest employer and the decimation of their tax base in what many now claim was a Racist Immigration raid made to grab headlines and set a political agenda that ended up ruining an entire town.
We live in perilous times in America because the landed foreigner and the laboring immigrant are at once repudiated and then held close in an attempt to reconcile homogeny against prejudice and lawlessness against basic business needs.
The Midwest is a flat, cold and barren place to exist. Few find life there and fewer local teenagers want to work for $15.00USD an hour. The kids want more money for less work and so many choose the university or the California sunshine instead of the traditional mud-and-blood-collar jobs of farming and the factory line. As the world gets smaller, opportunities expand.
So who is left to fill the line cook job in the local diner and the slaughterhouse line at the meatpacking plant? There’s work to be done and money to be made, but there aren’t enough locals left to fill the vacant jobs.
You import workers. You negotiate held beliefs with work schedules. You bus in immigrants that may or may not have the proper documentation, but they all have the obvious desire to work and to get paid a decent living wage.
You look the other way. You shrug a bit. You try to get the work done before the end of the day just to keep the lines moving and the paychecks flying and the local economy bustling.
Then forces beyond your control — divinity, devotion and the Department of Homeland Security — clamber into town wearing headscarves and flashing badges, and your toes get stepped on, and the dreams of the same sort of foreign labor workforce that once built this great nation are crushed and handcuffed, and you wonder where it all went so wrong and how the hatred of the world found you to smother you with a righteous indignation you never served or earned.