Tyson Plant Adds Muslim Holiday, Keeps Labor Day

AP, August 8, 2008

Union workers and officials at a Tyson Foods plant in Tennessee said Friday they have agreed to reinstate Labor Day as a paid holiday, and the plant will also observe the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr this year.

Tyson had previously agreed to drop Labor Day and substitute the Muslim holiday as part of a new 5-year contract to accommodate Muslim workers at the plant in Shelbyville, which is about 50 miles south of Nashville. The decision sparked widespread criticism, from local politicians to talk radio to the Internet.

The Springdale, Ark.-based company said it requested reinstating Labor Day after complaints from plant workers and the public.

Union members voted Thursday to reinstate Labor Day as one of the plant’s paid holidays and keep Eid al-Fitr as an additional paid holiday for this year only. For the remainder of the contract, workers will have Labor Day and a personal holiday, which can be used to observe Eid al-Fitr or another day the employee’s supervisor approves.

Union officials have said at least a couple hundred of the 1,200 plant workers are Muslim.

Eid al-Fitr—which falls on Oct. 1 this year—marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

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“I would have thought that people would have been more sensitive and sympathetic to the concern to the members of our community, who want to celebrate their religious faith,” [Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union] said. “It’s a little disingenuous to say that they (Tyson) were responding to employee concerns. The proposal came from workers themselves.”

Tyson’s previous decision to drop Labor Day as a paid holiday drew intense scrutiny. In a letter to the Shelbyville Times-Gazette newspaper published Thursday, the local mayor and other state elected leaders said substituting Labor Day “for a nontraditional holiday is unacceptable.”

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Last year, dozens of Somali meatpacking workers at a Nebraska plant quit their jobs because they were not given enough time off for Muslim prayers, though they eventually returned to work at the Swift & Co. plant.

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