African labor dispute in Colorado

The World

In the past few years, hundreds of immigrants from Somalia and other east African countries have moved to this town in Colorado to work at the meat packing plant. The arrangement worked until recently. This woman is at the only mosque in town. She talks about what went wrong at the plant: the conflict is about Ramadan, she says. During Ramadan Muslims don’t work anything during the day and break fast at sunset. That’s what some of the Muslims workers planned to do on September 5th. But when they left the assembly line on an early break, they found the water fountains had been turned off. In protest, the woman and a couple hundred other workers, walked off the job, and a few days later they were fired. The plant declined an interview, but in a statement said it’s trying to balance between keeping a production schedule and its workers needs. About 70 of the workers are now filing discrimination charges with the federal government with the help of this Denver lawyer. She says the plant let some workers take an early break to break their fast in early September, but then changed its mind when some non-Muslim workers on the line complained. She said federal law requires employers to make accommodations for religious practice. The labor dispute has sparked debate in the town and some locals say the Muslims are asking for special privileges. Immigrant leaders are concerned the labor dispute is souring attitudes towards immigrants, so they formed a special group aimed at communication. This man is one of the members. He and several others have come to the local rec center to talk with community members. The mayor of the town says the city welcomes the immigrants as long as they work hard and strive to make the community a better place. This immigrant has tried to follow that advice and got a new job after being fired from the meat packing plant. If these workers can’t find jobs, says the mayor, that would strain the relations even more.

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