Friday, September 19, 2008

Muslim Prayer in the Work Place: One look at Devotion in a Nebraska Meat-Packing Plant

The following exchange was excerpted from the Borgmann Family Blog. It's predominantly between my Aunt Enid in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Cousin Lisa in Lincoln and her sister, Erin, living in Tripoli, Libya. Their writing about the Grand Island Meat-Packing plant and Muslim workers during Ramadan, made me wonder a lot of things.
What does it mean to be Muslim in America? Is a Somali
Muslim treated differently than any other Muslim? How about Catholics or Jews? What are the conditions of working in the meat packing industry? How much
immigrant labor is employed by Swift? How do we deal with cultural differences in the work place? How is this situation with Swift's Plant similar and different to other industries with a diverse labor force?

The email exchange closes with more questions I posed today in the
Borgmann Family List-serve.


Aunt Enid:

Grand Island has made the news recently with demonstrations by
hundreds of Muslim Somali workers from the Swift plant. They are
upset because they haven't been allowed to pray – especially now
during Ramadan. Is Swift wrong? How do you figure in the times thatseveral hundred workers need to stop 3 or 4 times a shift and kneel on the floor? How do you handle it? I think a couple of shifts had made some allowances, but no one was fired. I understand that the Greeley, Colorado plant is in the same fix. We're very aware here at the office, because they obstructed traffic on Hwy. 30, walking the mile and a half into the City office, and passed our building. It was all peaceful, but I had no idea that there were so many in GI, and wonder where they all live?

Cousin Erin:

If they're stopping 4 times a shift, they must be working some long
shifts! :D It would depend on the shift, but unless they're working
more than 8 hours at a time the max would be 3... the night or
morning shift would have one or even none. There are only 5 calls to
prayer in a day- the first at sunrise, the last at night before bed-
the other three spaced during the day. I'm pretty familiar with this
by now, since the call to prayer can be heard at pretty much any
place in town- especially at work because there are 3 mosques close
to us, one right across the street. I keep meaning to catch it on
video and post it so you guys can hear it- it's sort of haunting but
cool at the same time. Anyway since they're based on the sunrise and
sunset they change a little every day, but today's prayer times here

5:22 AM, 1:01 PM, 4:31 PM, 7:10 PM, and 8:30 PM.

It depends on what calendar you use, what timing method you use...
they're all a little bit different. You can find the times here:

I don't see why it should be a problem; it takes just a few minutes.
Most workers take more time for smoke breaks. Of course the way meat-
packing plants enslave people they probably don't get even smoke
breaks... and of course we've all heard the stories about factory
workers who wear diapers because they're not even allowed to go to
the bathroom. :( Here we allow people to stop for prayer (although
many don't) and during Ramadan their work day is shorter too. I can't
imagine working, especially on my feet like at a factory, without
eating or drinking all day.

The Wikipedia article is interesting and has links at the bottom to
audio files... but nothing's quite like hearing it in person.

Aunt Enid:

Re: the Muslim walk out: The Muslims returned to work and were told
that the whole line would shut down for ½ hour so they would be given
enough time to pray, but that pissed off the rest of the other
workers, and a big batch of them have walked off because they said
they're just being cut hours and pay. Nice mess.

Cousin Erin:

Why do they need to shut down the line?? What do they do when someone
goes the bathroom, shut down the line? Or are there so many of them
that there's just no way? Why would anyone else complain about
getting a half hour off? Or is it unpaid, which would be total BS for
everyone involved... and why a half hour? seriously, doesn't take
THAT long...

I'm guessing it's only a matter of time until someone gets drunk and
shoots one of these immigrants. Could get ugly.

Aunt Enid:

More of the Swift plant walk out:? Yes, Erin, they were going to cut
time out for everyone to allow people to pray – well that created
such a ruckus that there was a riot in the lunch room during one
shift yesterday between the Muslims and Hispanics and police had to
break it up.? Since then, Swift has backed out of their deal with the
Muslims and things are back to where they were, and the Muslims are
now back to threatening to walk out again unless they're given the
opportunity to pray.? It doesn't take long, but several women were
kneeling on the floor at their work station, or going into the
bathroom to pray and the first practice was dangerous and the second
ticked some people off.? I wonder if they are really that devout??
Nobody has ever given the others a day off or whatever for Holy Days
like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.? You just work around it somehow.?
It's going to be interesting to see how they solve it.?

Cousin Lisa:

This morning on the radio they said that all the workers would be
short a 40-hour week with the new praying plan, which meant they
would have to work on Saturdays. Heck, I'd riot, too.

I'm sure if Swift management really wanted to solve the problem, they
could. I suspect they came up with the plan which entailed everyone
working on Saturdays, knowing full well that the rest of the staff
wouldn't go for it. Hence, shift the conflict from blaming management
to blaming the Muslim workers. Now all the Muslims will be attacked
by coworkers for their religious beliefs and management can feel smug
and blame everything on the Muslims.

Randy made a point that Swift probably doesn't have Sunday shifts.
Most factories don't.


I wonder what a work force could accomplish if they were allowed to
meditate/ pray/ pause 3 times a day?

What would productivity look like?
What would the happiness level be?
What about worker satisfaction levels?


The Vis sisters pray together 4 times a day. And they go about their
work and service in such a different manner.....It's amazing how less
cranky we are, when we breathe deeply in any kind of communal way....

1 comment:

Annette Scotti said...

Howdy Queen Mab! The best way to solve this is to have the Muslim community start their own factory! Most businesses in America are small businesses. They can join the club!

My daughter Danielle is going to Turkey to study Islam during the month of January. I am sure she will have some insight on daily life...which includes working life... to share....

Enjoy the beautiful weekend, Annette