Muslim leader says 150 workers fired at Grand Island, Neb., meatpacking plant

Source:  http://www.startribune.com/

By JEAN ORTIZ , Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. – A Grand Island meatpacking plant fired at least 86 workers Friday after they walked off the job amid a dispute over prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, company officials said.

But a Muslim leader and one of the fired workers said 150 Muslims lost their jobs.

JBS Swift & Co. spokeswoman Tamara Smid confirmed 86 firings late Friday, saying the employees were terminated earlier that day for repeatedly leaving work without authorization. She would not give any other details, including whether anyone else had been fired.

Mohamed Rage, who leads the Omaha Somali-American Community Organization, said 80 workers were thrown out after an altercation late Thursday. He says when they tried to return for their shift Friday, they were fired, along with 70 others.

Police said were called to the plant late Thursday amid reports of a riot or serious fight. But when officers arrived, the situation had calmed, said police Chief Steve Lamken.

Muslim workers — mostly of Somali background — have been asking for accommodations with break times to allow prayer at sunset. The issue led to walkouts this week — not only from Muslims but from non-Muslims who protested such accommodations as preferential treatment.

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