What is the legal basis for the EEOC to hold that JBS-SWIFT had violated the employees’ civil rights?
As immigrants continue to come to the United States from many different cultures and religions, differences will cause some challenges and problems. One area where this has occurred is with Islamic culture and religion in the meat processing industry. A plant (a fresh chicken facility) belonging to Tyson Foods, Inc., in Shelbyville, Tennessee, is one example. The company hired about 250 people from Somalia. A long-running civil war in their country has forced many Somalis to settle in the United States as refugees, and many Somalis are Muslim. The union at the plant requested replacing the paid holiday Labor Day with Eid ul-Fitr, a religious holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The request was brought up as part of negotiations for a new labor contract, and was part of the overall contract proposal approved by union members. The plant is often open on Labor Day anyway to meet consumer demand during the barbeque season.
Along with holiday pay, the workers also received time and a half for hours worked on Labor Day. The EEOC says employers may not treat people more or less favorably because of their religion. However, religious accommodation may be warranted unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Flexible scheduling, voluntary time swaps, transfers, and reassignments are possible means of accommodation, along with other policies and practices. Tyson’s consideration of exchanging Labor Day for Eid ul-Fitr brought strong reactions from non-Muslim workers and the general public. The union voted again on the issue and overwhelmingly voted to reinstate Labor Day as a paid holiday. The company’s solution was to have eight paid holidays, including a “personal holiday” that could be either the employee’s birthday, Eid ul-Fitr, or another day approved by the employee’s supervisor. That compromise was acceptable to the workers. Another company that faced similar issues is JBS-SWIFT, a meat packer with plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Greeley, Colorado.
That company also hired many Somali Muslims. The issue there was prayer time. In Greeley, the Muslim workers demanded time to pray at sundown—a requirement during Ramadan. The plant works three shifts. More than 300 workers walked out when they were told they could not have the time to pray. More than 100 were fired later, not for walking out but for not returning to work. The walkout touched off protests from workers of different faiths who thought the request for religious accommodation was too much. The EEOC ruled that JBS-SWIFT had violated the civil rights of the employees it had fired. The company was found to have denied religious accommodation and retaliated against workers who complained. JBS-SWIFT has since set up special prayer rooms at its plants and allows Muslim workers to meet their religious obligations, which include prayers five times daily.
Chapter 3: Equal Employment Opportunity – Questions:
- What is the legal basis for the EEOC to hold that JBS-SWIFT had violated the employees’ civil rights?
- Contrast the solutions to the Tyson situation and the JBS-SWIFT situation. Which is likely to have the greatest positive impact on the company and why?
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