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Muslim Workers Walk Off At Another Swift Plant

Five-hundred Muslim workers walked off the job Monday at another JBS Swift meatpacking plant, claiming they were denied time to pray during the Muslim observance of Ramadan.

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) -- Workers who walked off the job at a Grand Island meatpacking plant in a dispute over Muslim prayer time have not been fired, a company spokeswoman said.

But the president of the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union said Tuesday that changing the breaks might not be feasible for other workers at the JBS Swift & Co. plant.

"I don't know that I can agree to that, because I have 1,700 other people to worry about," said Dan Hoppes, Local 22 union president. "I have to look and see what they've got in mind."

In a statement, Swift said company management met with union leadership and local Muslim leaders to address the timing of the second-shift lunch break.

"Our hope is that we can strike a balance between a reasonable accommodation of their requests and our operational requirements," according to the statement.

About 500 Swift workers, all Muslim and mostly of Somali background, walked off the job Monday afternoon. Many marched to Grand Island City Hall, carrying signs that urged religious freedom.

About 50 people staged a similar protest a little before noon on Tuesday at City Hall, Grand Island police said.

The workers said they haven't been allowed to pray during their holiest month, Ramadan, which occurs in September this year.

One woman said she was kicked by a supervisor when she attempted to pray. Another woman said she was followed into the bathroom by a supervisor when she attempted to pray there.

More than 100 workers at a Greeley, Colo., Swift plant were fired last week because the company said they walked away from work before their shifts ended.

The workers blamed the company's refusal to allow their breaks to coincide with sunset so they could pray.

Swift, which was purchased by Brazil's JBS SA in March, has had problems with Muslim workers at the Grand Island plant in the past. Dozens of workers from Somalia quit their jobs last year because, they said, they weren't allowed to pray at sunset. They eventually returned to work.

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